by Mike Brotzman
©2006 Mike Brotzman -- all rights reserved
Well, this will be the last Dragon's Lair in the online publication known as TSAT. As sad as this is, it makes an interesting point. Websites and zines shut down all the time; I mean, as long as puny hewmans are in charge of them they will get old or tired or sick and at some point they will not be able to continue on. So while its sad that TSAT is ending its run after 48 issues, it probably had to happen sooner or later. But whats interesting is that the demise of TSAT mirrors the plight of transformation fandom in general. The zine started off great, with a lot of momentum, seemed to have a lot of readers, but in the end it lost its shine and was ultimately replaced by another web magazine called Anthro. You see, transformation fandom, much like dragon fandom, is something that a lot of people enjoy... but nobody really cares about.
I have seen this trend for a long time, but it took the demise of TSAT for me to really put it in words. Both transformation and dragons are very popular, even when it comes to 'mainstream' audiences. Theyre sort of like Star Wars in that they are an SF&F concept that a wide swath of the population can get behind; and while some people choose to take things to the max and dress up as their favorite Jedi, it's not required. If you think about such 'soft geek' shows as Stargate SG-1, or children's programming on weekday afternoons or the Disney channel, transformation is a common and popular theme. Does the word Transformers ring any bells? There's also the various Power Rangers shows and Animorphs, both of which involve 'morphing', and let's not forget that Harry Potter, the most popular book series ever, is rife with transformational content. The examples go on and on, especially as you get into the 'hard geek' shows. You have body swaps, TG situations, shrinkage, alien TFs, characters get turned 'evil' by doubletalk mutations, the sudden gain/loss of powers. You get my point: Transformation is a generally popular subject.
So what happened to TSAT? The transformation scene took off with a bang around 2000, with large numbers of stories being written, all sorts of websites, not least of them the frequently-updated Transformation Stories Archive (TSA), and all sorts of mailing lists, most prominently TSA-Talk. However, things ran out of gas. Today, the TSA archive hasn't been updated in years; the TSA-Talk mailing list has cooled down; and there has been a marked reduction in websites and related online content. What happened is that people don't care deeply about TF. It's like those 'internet phenomena' videos you get on You Tube. The Star Wars Kid is funny, but after you've seen it 10 times you sort of stop caring. There's nothing that really grabs you and keeps you involved... and this is where Furry fandom comes in.
I want to make clear that this is not a rant against furs or Furry fandom. I feel I have stumbled upon a natural phenomenon, so ranting against it would be like bitching at lions for eating meat. I have come to believe that, unlike the transformation or dragon fandoms, Furry is something that people can care about, both positively and negatively. Why? There are several reasons. The first is that Furry fandom is already transformation-based. It's basically about being something you're not. The transformation community has had a very large proportion of furs from the beginning, and it's not surprising. Second, Furry fandom is much deeper. It's about more than changing from a lame hewman into an anthro. Transformation is kind of like garlic; it will always be something of a flavor enhancer, rather than a main ingredient. People might love garlic, but who'd want to eat a whole dinner of nothing but garlic? In the magical land of Furry, you can have a character and commission art, do role plays and socialize with other people's characters, all sorts of fun and interesting things. This brings us to reason number three, adult situations. I won't go into much detail here, but everyone knows about furs and biological docking maneuvers, and one should never underestimate the pull of adult situations.
Finally, 'furry' is basically shorthand for 'anthropomorphic', i.e., hewman-like. In the large context of things, that means furry is easy. Most people on this planet are hewman; therefore, it follows that hewmans will be better able to relate to being something that is hewman-like. This goes beyond being 'anthro' in terms of bipedal posture and readily accessible naughty-bits. It means you can be hewman-like in thought and action and for your average hewman, they can do this. In transformation fandom, however, you get all sorts of hard-core discussions about what is it really like to be a horse, or to be an energy being, or to be an alien. This can get very deep very fast, and it usually requires extensive knowledge of classic 'hard' science fiction. On the other hand, if you're a furry, you can just be yourself... with fur... and that's completely acceptable.
When you get right down to it, Furry fandom is a huge object of attraction for people in TF fandom, because honestly, they're halfway there anyway. At the same time, you have that old furry stigma working in the background. Many, many people don't like furries and want nothing to do with furries. If someone interested in TF sees that most other TF fans are also furries, they're likely to throw up their hands and be like, "Errr, maybe I should get the fuck out of the chat room. I gotta go break dance on the roof d.d b.b." So what it comes down to is this: People care about being a furry, people care about not being a furry, but people don't care about transformation.
All of this is traceable to the fact that transformations are not a 'meal'. There has always been this fight in the transformation community about how much transformational content you need to make a good TF story. Some people like the 'diet cola' approach with faux TF-ishness, while I happen to prefer real transformations despite the higher fat content. Either way, few people ever advocate the 'eating the stick of butter plain' (aka CYOC) style of transformational content, as it will give you a literary heart attack. I will totally admit that I don't read much TF fiction any more. Most of what comes over the wire is 'diet' or just plain bad. Even when I do engage in guilty pleasure reading, usually I just skim the TF-y parts to stay within my USRDA of crap.
The failure of the TSA and TSAT is not because of furs or bad TF writing. Rather, it's that in the supermarket aisle of mass culture, Furry fandom just happens to be right next to the Transformation cloves. If it wasn't Furry, it'd be Harry Potter or Star Trek or whatever else, but it would be something. Over the last year I have tried, with my Dragon's Lair articles, to provide an alternate basis for TF writing -- the other white meat, so to speak. I don't know how successful or unsuccessful I was, but the ultimate demise of TSAT has given me an opportunity to explain, to myself especially, why I was writing these and what I hoped to achieve.
This brings me to my final point: I see dragon fandom going down the same dead-end road as TF fandom. Right now, if you want good, original, non-professional dragon art, your best bet would be Fur Affinity and possibly the VCL. Back in the day, 1999, the place to go was Elfwood; but today, Elfwood is basically crap while Fur Affinity is taking off with tens of thousands of new artworks posted per week. Dragon fandom is increasingly being assimilated into furry fandom. Since dragons are usually transformational, it's not hard to throw in an anthro form and then go nuts with the furs. However, unlike transformation, which is a garnish, there is no reason that dragons can't be the meat. While popular culture (most recently Stargate SG-1) loves to use dragons as two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, that doesn't mean they have to be that way, and there are a great deal of media and literature out there that treat dragons as real characters.
So all you dragons out there, you don't need to wrap yourselves in the furry banner to have a sense of identity. I know it's the easy way out, but please, a dragon is not a fur! Don't say that people are incapable of caring about dragons by themselves. Being in the Furry pigeonhole is not only a bad fit, it also will scare people away. We don't have to go the way of transformation fandom.