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Suppressing the Urge

In the last few days I’ve been recipient of the Internet phenomenon of instant criticism in the form of user comments. Since Monday (and today is only Wednesday), I’ve incurred the wrath, scorn, sneering derision and hurt feelings of horror and fantasy/Furry folk (though mainly the latter).

In conjunction with the release of Pariah, Entertainment Weekly’s web edition ran an item in which I recommend the work of some of my favorite contemporary horror writers. Now, maybe the title of the article (“Pariah author Bob Fingerman reveals his five favorite tomes of terror”) was a bit inexact. They were five faves that came to mind of authors I like and/or feel don’t get enough notice. So, I knowingly left out people whose work I’ve enjoyed, like Stephen King, because I figured he’s not hurting for readers. The thing is, by not touting King I’d committed the crime of omission and was dubbed a “moron” for such (and for not hyping Poe or Lovecraft, either). Thing is, over the course of my nearly hour conversation with Mr. Collis, I did mention Lovecraft in regard to one of the authors I commended, Ramsey Campbell, who is present day’s closest heir, having even started off as pretty much a Lovecraft imitator. But the article compressed and edited the discussion (of course), so I appeared to some as a culturally illiterate horror dilettante.

The urge to respond is hard to suppress. I want to address my critics and in a reasonable tone explicate what’s what and how, “No, really, I love Lovecraft and Poe! But again, they don’t need the ink (or pixels, as the case may be).”

And always Michele sagaciously instructs me: “Don’t you dare!” Because it’s a slippery slope that leads to a bottomless hole.

Today brought back memories, though. A piece I wrote went up on tor.com, today, about my aversion to Avatar and its elongated blue cat-like native critters, the Na’vi. I wryly posited that I regarded Avatar as a mainstreaming of the Furries, those people for whom dressing up as curvaceous cartoon animals is an erotic experience. I thought it was funny, but clearly I was wrong. I’d offended, big time. The fur flew. It was a dog-pile of censure.

Years ago, when I first got on the ‘Net—back in probably 1993 or ’94—my buddy John introduced me to the Furries. My gateway Furry was called AJ Skunk (you never forget your first). I thought it was a joke, but John assured me, “Oh no, this is a real thing. And he’s not alone.” I was gobsmacked that this was a lifestyle people would pursue (or would that be fursue? And don’t give me shit about the bad pun; they call their gatherings ConFurences.).

So, anyway, my Tor item brought the thunder. I had offended the sensibilities of this not officially classified special interest group. Thing is, that wasn’t my intent. In my own wiseass way I’d been quite naïve. I thought it was just a droll (humor being subjective) puff piece that turned out to be neither droll, nor puffy enough. Seeing the comments (which were, I must say, articulate and mostly fairly reasonable, given the subject matter) part of me thought, “Oh, get over it. Really? Really? This is what sets you people off?” Another part felt genuinely bad about offending. It was like I’d stepped into their clubhouse and taken a shit right in the center of the floor. The third part, the dark side, wanted to egg it on. Throw down.

But I didn’t. This is my response. The response is: never respond. Walk it off. Take a breath. Write a one-off essay about the self-destructive urge to participate and get on with your life.

21 Comments

  1. Ruthcarol Touhey wrote:

    God, I need Michele around to give me this kind of advice. Nice one-off.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  2. bob wrote:

    Yes. Michele is, as ever, invaluable in incalculable ways. I’d get into web fights galore without her.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  3. Robert Boyd wrote:

    Bob, could yo tell us the five best furry horror novels?

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Permalink
  4. Robert Boyd wrote:

    “could you” (My typing skills are seriously impaired when I’m wearing my zombie marmoset costume.)

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  5. bob wrote:

    Robert:

    Yes, the five best furry novels are (in no particular order):

    A Tail of Two Kitties
    by Charles Kittens
    Anna Kat-renina by Leo Dogs-toy
    The Apes of Wrath by John Steinsilverback Gorilla
    Cat-22 by Joseph Howler-monkey
    Crime and Obedience School by Fyodor Dogstoevsky

    Best I can come up with on short notice. As for furry horror novels, my mind’s a blank.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  6. Jared wrote:

    Nice work resisting. It must drive you crazy thinking about all the wouldas and shouldas and jerk stores.
    I couldn’t believe the level of anger and hurt expressed in the tor comments. I felt bad for ‘em to a degree but at the same time, it’s a snarky essay on the internet. I figured with all those animal traits, a thick skin might be one of ‘em.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  7. bob wrote:

    Jared: Nice. I like that thick skin comment. Yeah, I guess my brand of snark doesn’t play there. I found the level of the room.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink
  8. Megan wrote:

    Thick-skin, hee hee.
    Michelle is right, commenting on the comments is a losing game, but not having a ‘Michelle’ in my life, it took me too long to realize it. After too much bile-spewing, I now remind myself not to engage with the idiots. Also, from my interest in things odd, sick, weird I can tell you that the inherent degree of goofiness of a subject is inverse to the amount of seriousness its acolytes give it. You’d be surprised how mean believers in Fairies can get when you make a crack about their theology being ‘elfish’. Stay away from the cryptozoologists.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 7:33 pm | Permalink
  9. bob wrote:

    Michele (with one L) is always right. Do I always listen? No. But she’s always right.

    The empathetic part of me (which is not inconsiderable considering my fairly advanced misanthropy) feels bad for offending these people. But the sneering part is baffled at how anyone could take the whole Furries thing seriously. I mean, go to YouTube and watch some Furry videos. This isn’t a joke to these folks. But it’s so fucking weird how can you not laugh? The video I linked to was the first I got in a random “Furry” search. It’s “foxy” foxes with big furry bosoms. And I’m the bad guy? To them, yes.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  10. MariNaomi wrote:

    Offending people on the internet is a coming-of-age thing these days–if you express an opinion, it’s practically unavoidable. Just fur-get about it!

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink
  11. puck wrote:

    - It does not appear that you have taken any of the responses seriously or with any thought, because you think #1 We’re all just furries so who cares and #2 Furries are from some “not officially classified special interest group” so they live in some creepy cave for freaks some where. #3 We should be the ones to get over being offended something as small as your insulting and mean article.

    WOW. I can’t believe someone who’s been working in the art and writing world for so long is so enormously ignorant. Here’s the thing: we are not all furries (as I pointed out on tor.com I am not one), but that doesn’t mean we don’t understand it, because we’re SCI-FI and FANTASY fans. There’s some pretty crazy shit in there that we love, and other people can’t understand, but it’s OKAY. On the flip, I’m sure there are more furries (or people who enjoy anthro entertainment) in the tor.com comments than have identified themselves, because they AREN’T just some little group of bearded women.

    - Shockingly, not all furries dress up in fursuits and masturbate for YouTube. If you think so, then that’s some extreeeeme ignorance I’d expect from a non fantasy fan who’s only seen furries through CSI. I’m just so amazed you’ve not come in contact with regular anthro enthusiasts in your line of work.

    - You are responding, not walking away at all. I don’t know why you think that’s what you’re doing, when you’re just continuing to be insulting.

    - My advice? ACTUALLY READ the comments and don’t just dismiss them out of hand because you think behind each one is someone freaky. We’re telling you you’re being a JERK to women and to a large selection of sci-fi/fantasy fans. This does not need a fur-suit to understand. The proper response is not to walk away, but to say, “I’m sorry. I was uninformed before and just made assumptions on what little I knew. Now I understand better.”

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  12. bob wrote:

    Puck: Believe me, I take the responses seriously. I am kind of stunned by the level of vitriol over the trifling item I wrote. You make several good points, and my intention, believe it or not, was never to insult or offend anyone. In my Eden-like ignorance (I’m not being facetious), or maybe more accurately lack of foresight, I just thought I’d written a snarky, off-the-cuff little humor piece. Evidently not, and I touched a very raw nerve. It’s obvious no one on Tor has ever read any of my work (speaking of ignorance), because if they had they’d know 1) I’m an equal opportunity offender, 2) generally speaking I’m a bleeding heart liberal and 3) I think much of the absurd shit in the world is there to poke fun at, myself included. I have been very prone to self-mockery for much/most of my career.

    So, being a Furry is an actual lifestyle choice. I haven’t just seen it on the TV. I’ve been to Comic Cons and seen it live and in person. I’m not as ignorant as you might think. I’ve done research, read many of the Furry FAQs on their own websites. And I’ll admit it: I just don’t get it. Maybe that makes me a terrible, closed-minded person, but there it is. And the long and short of it is I am a career wiseass. I don’t deal well with earnestness and much of the sci-fi/fantasy world is populated by earnest people. I am ironic to the bone and I guess I wasn’t sensitive to whose house I was in. Mea culpa. But in all fairness, I think some of the comments there were not commensurate to the crime. They need to step back and get some sense of proportion, no?

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  13. TheSmilingMan wrote:

    Bob,

    Clearly, I liked your article and I don’t think that you have anything to be concerned about. There’s big difference between insightfully viewing films, lifestyles, etc and simply shallowly accepting them. Your article was brief but I thought the subtext focused on a negative trend to dehumanize people.

    I don’t care about them very much, but I believe that being a “furry” is part of a negative mindset that is not humane. There’s nothing wrong with calling this out. If it’s true, then it should be exposed. If it’s not true, then a dialogue is formed, which is illuminating.

    Good luck.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  14. bob wrote:

    Keep smiling, man.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  15. bob wrote:

    UPDATE: I caved and responded. Michele, forgive me. Now I shall truly move on.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  16. TheSmilingMan wrote:

    Bob,

    For practical purposes, you had to do it. Furries would unite and attempt to destroy you (serious), then years from now you’ll be forced to climb into some fox costume just make a dollar, and then what?

    Better to kill it now, and move on.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  17. ROBLEWMAC wrote:

    the whole thing is ironic “WERE comfortable with ANYTHING…except people who are not comfortable with anything.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  18. bob wrote:

    Pretty much, but at this point I’m stepping away from this whole brouhaha. Too much time and energy devoted to it already.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  19. TheSmilingMan wrote:

    Roblewac,

    Great point!

    I blame Post Modernism which was popular in the 90s. The gist was, “Our philosophy is that the is no philosophy, and we’ll write plenty of books about it and get angry.”

    It affected a generation, or two.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  20. puck wrote:

    “I think some of the comments there were not commensurate to the crime. They need to step back and get some sense of proportion, no?”

    Yes and no. There will always be someone who has a kneejerk reaction, but I see very little of that in the comments. Tor.com commentors tend to be pretty tame for the web as a whole.

    You think you wrote a light humor piece. We see someone (from supposedly the same fantasy-loving place as us) being sexist and intolerant. You are right, that’s not what we expect from that venue. Maybe if you were doing stand-up, this would be expected. Although, I don’t tend to have patience for sexism/bigotry humor anywhere anyway. In the context of those themes, I think the comments are quite appropriate.

    You hit the dogpile and are trying to figure out why, so thanks for that.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  21. bob wrote:

    I actually don’t care for fantasy, so maybe that’s part of the problem. I write about “fantastic” stuff, I suppose (post-apocalypse, horror, what have you), but straight-up fantasy never really did it for me. I read Tolkien’s stuff as a kid, but that was all I could take. I enjoyed the movies, too. And I like my comedy rough, generally. Gentle comedy = not funny, usually. I tend to have an edge to my humor and it’s an edge that’s going to rub some people the wrong way. Honestly, this experience has been very interesting to me. It’s exposed me to some new ideas or clarified some others. It’s been educational and I’m happy to apologize for ruffled feathers (or fur), but I don’t apologize for who I am and what I like. Or don’t. Truce?

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

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