Zootopia and Hype

At the time of writing, I have just seen somebody posting a picture of a Nick Wilde (the fox from Zootopia) plush they have bought. This is not an uncommon sight in the fandom, at least for those following the furry side of social media. It’s a curious purchase, because the plush was sold based only on marketing.

The Nick Wilde plush exists only in relationship to what is, currently, a promised other product. To me, merchandise comes after the fact, not before. What I mean by this is the following: Merchandise is something you buy having already read the book, watched the film, played the game, etc. Merchandise is, in theory, meant to be a form of memorabilia, and supports the creation of something you’ve enjoyed. Note the past tense of enjoyed. It’s not something bought on the idea of going to enjoy it. And that going to enjoy as opposed to have already enjoyed is my concern with Zootopia (known as Zootropolis in some countries).

People are already buying merchandise for a film they have never seen, and spending money on representations of things they have not yet experienced.

You may ask, “Well, what’s the problem with this? People are free to spend their money on what they wish? Why does it matter?”

That question deserves an answer.

Definition:

To begin, let me define what I am referring to when I say “hype-culture”. It is important to distinguish “hype,” from “excitement”. For the purpose of this article, hype is the state of mind in which a person is willing to invest in a franchise or product before having direct experience of it, excluding, of course, any investment that may be required to gain aforementioned experience. For example, hype, would refer to buying anything related to a film prior to having seen said film, excluding the cost of the ticket required to see it. To a lesser extent, time can also be considered an investment. If a significant amount of time is spent in relation to a product before direct experience, this could be considered hype. An example of this would be creating fan-art for a film before having seen it.

Hype, can also be distinguished in mind-set. The difference between “being hyped,” and “excited about” is the surety of the quality. Somebody who is excited will be of the mind-set of “I think that this is going to be good, but I readily accept that it may not.” A person who is hyped will be of the mind-set: “This will be good.” The difference is that an excited person is fully aware that the product may not meet expectations, whilst somebody who is hyped will not seriously entertain such a notion.

A note on these two qualifiers (investment—financial and temporal—and surety of quality): Only one of these conditions needs to be met for something to be considered “hype-culture.” If somebody has met the surety criterion, but not invested, this still ought to be considered hype. The same is true in reverse; one can invest without absolute surety, and this to, ought to be thought of as hype.

“Hype-Culture,” a Marketing Department’s Dream

The first issue around hype is the message it sends to companies. It embodies the mind-set of “our marketing is more important than our product.” So long as bums are in seats and toys are off shelves, the quality of the film becomes irrelevant.

People may be joking or serious when they say “the creators care for the fandom,” (or something to that effect) but this is an unhealthy mind-set. The creators want money. Whatever they think of furries does not matter. If they like us, great, but never forget that their eyes are aimed at the cash.

Zootopia is, above all else, a commercial endeavour. There’s nothing wrong with that, commercial endeavours can have artistic merit and/or become beloved cultural works. But as a consumer, you owe it to yourself to remember why the film exists, what the producers want out of you, and to cast a critical eye when you part with your cash. At the end of the day, we want good products, not good marketing campaigns. A consumer’s money should reflect that. My advice would be to wait until you’ve seen the film, and decide whether you enjoy it, before you buy anything other than the admission ticket.

The temporal investment of fan-art is a similar, since it’s essentially doing the job of marketing departments for free. It shows that all that needs to be done is sweep people away with a good marketing campaign, the final product mattering less. If you follow enough furries on social- media, you will see a great many fan-made advertisements for a film which they have not seen. This is an endorsement for something that has not yet been directly experienced. If, after having seen it, somebody decides they wish to promote it in this way, then there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s good that somebody enjoyed something so much.

This may come across as a cynical view, dampening hopeful spirits, but I would say the reverse is true. It argues that people are smart enough to be active, thinking, consumers, not being taken in by a wave of hype, able to look at a company and say “I’ll give you my money when you show me you deserve it.”

Furthermore, ask yourself this: “How does generating hype help consumers?” The answer is that it doesn’t. Hype exists purely for corporate benefit.

Zootopia in relation to the fandom

My second point is more focussed around the fandom. The furry fandom is bursting with creative minds; artists, writers, fursuit makers, etc. The community would not exist as it does without this creativity. However, the hype around Zootopia feels to me like people are turning their backs on what built the fandom, focussing their attention and giving their money to a large corporate venture. There’s nothing wrong with liking products that exist at the corporate scale of Zootopia, many of those are important to the fandom (Robin Hood, The Lion King, etc.). My issue is that I feel, for a community with humble, home-grown roots, suddenly jumping onto a purely commercial product feels wrong.

The premise of Zootopia isn’t unique (furries have imagined what a society of anthropomorphic animals would be like countless times before Zootopia). It probably won’t be a revolutionary, insightful, cultural classic. Yet furries seem to be holding it up, not because of its quality, but because it’s mainstream. Within the community, more interesting and creative products can be found. In fact, the non-mainstream aspect of furry allows for these more interesting products to flourish.

My concern is that people are pushing aside art and stories created by others within the fandom, based on a belief that Zootopia the first “furry-targeted” film aimed at the mainstream. Liking Zootopia is fine, and it’s likely it will be a decent film; nothing revolutionary, but enjoyable whilst it lasts. However I feel it is important that it doesn’t take too much attention away from the individuals in the fandom.

Conclusion

As companies become better at manipulating social media, and generating a culture of hype around their products, it is the responsible consumer’s duty to look through a critical eye. There is nothing wrong with being excited for Zootopia, or whatever else Disney or other companies produce, but it is important to temper that excitement with the behaviours and spending tendencies that lead to a better, more consumer-friendly environment.

About Corgi W.

Corgi is currently studying for a degree in philosophy. She enjoys writing and writing anthropomorphic fiction, and has a passion for philosophical debate.

14 thoughts on “Zootopia and Hype

  1. Hype and excitement are interchangeable in the English dictionary and thus, I believe, not applicable to the definition you gave for the sake of this piece. Though I agree with some points the author of this article makes, liking Zootopia is not going against the values of this fandom. The furry fandom does not run on values or morals by nature. We like anthro fuzzy things. Thats our gimmick. Our mindset. What you described is more of a personal moral of what essentially is buying something and the justification of said purchase. Furs arent necessarily known for sound financial decisions, hell I’m not. And the commercialization of furry things happened way before the fandom existed or even was a big thing as it is now. Loony Toons and Disney were doing it since before WW1. This movie was designed for kids, not furs. We are not a big enough culture to warrant such financial investment on Disneys part.

    But if liking a movie is bad, this article must also be as baseless as hype since it seems to assume the movie is already bad or decent before it has even released in theatres.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I would like to point out though, that words aren’t defined by the dictionary. In a debate or argument, more precise terminology is needed. Thus, the words represent what is meant by them, and that supercedes the dictionary definition, since that is for general-spech, and not a more specific, formal argument.

      Also, the effort was taken specifically to say that likign a movies is fine, but there is a certain way to approach things as consumer. I’m glad you read the article though, and thank you for taking the time to respond.

  2. I wouldn’t be too concerned about fans turning their back to the fandom artists over this. Disney is clearly targeting furry fans with marketing for the Zootopia franchise, but the “furry” label itself is too compromised for them to ever cater to the fandom openly. Disney will never state “we love and understand furries”, which would be the real mainstream breakthrough. When the fandom at large realizes this (and it will) the hype will cool down to normal levels.
    Also furries want art which can’t really be provided by corporations, such as niche porn and custom commissions for prices way lower than industry standard. Fursuits might be a bit more exploitable than artwork though since they are more suitable for mass production and sell for relatively high prices. I’m sure there already are many producers in the clothing business which could add quality custom fursuits to their product lines with little investment and sell them at competitive prices.
    I think at worst the Zootopia hype could divert some money from general audience stuff created in the furry fandom, but if the following grows large enough it will just spawn its own separate fandom which only wants that particular flavor of furry stuff – same thing which happened with bronies and happens with pretty much every big furry release. If the movie is a hit we can certainly expect a renaissance in furry themed media, which will most likely have their separate fandoms like they have now.

  3. Corgi, I believe we’re far into what we call “transmedia” nowadays. While Zootopia is 90-minute-long animated movie, it is also a broader consumer experience. One of the good things about merchandise or large companies behind a product is that the user, or consumer, can get to experience the characters and the world far more than the main product. The movie is not out yet, but after some 4 or 5 trailers and social media output, we’ve all got to know Nick Wilde, Judy Hopps and all the other characters. That gives a sense of familiarity, something like… watching the movie is more like watching a single episode in the lives of those characters.

    In other words, merchandise and social media are used to enhance a story beyond the main product. It is profitable, yes, but it is also a broader experience, allowing consumers to enjoy those characters further. Being a motorsports fan, I love reading about stories and facts that go beyond the racetrack, for example. It gives me a better understanding of the sport and the people in it.

    As for affecting the fandom, I’ll definitely expect lots of fanart and fan-created content, but that’s only natural. The hype will fade out eventually, the characters will still be around but the fandom itself is too strong. Many familiar names, stories of its own and all that. It’s not a fandom centered on a single product: some furries barely enjoy animated movies, others are in for the fursuiting, some furries are into the spirit animal thing… it’s a huge fandom.

  4. You can talk about all the hype, and all the marketing you want. But there is no doubt, that every furry I know is so hyped for Zootopia it’s borders on obsession. I included myself in this, I so want to see this film. You might even ask why, not only does this film look very fun. But as I see it, Zootopia reflects back to especially furries what some wish our fursonas should be like. It literally takes all the stereotypes we all hear about this fursona or that. Like foxes being sneaky. or sloths being slow, and turns them on their ear. That scene at the DMV, or the nudist area respectively. Has literally caused some furries to rethink there fursonas. I will even go as far to say Zootopia even holds up a mirror to the furry fandom, and asks Are You Human or Animal?

    Already I am seeing dozens of private showings where fursuiting will be allowed.

    I think it will be interesting to see if Zootopia changes the fandom.

      1. I think that there are two reasons that Zootopia hits such a nerve with many of us.

        The first reason is that it validates many of the decisions that furry content creators have made about their imaginings of a world of animal-people. The only differences I can see between Zootropolis and the modern-day world that many of Kyell Gold’s books are set in is the magnitude of the size differences between animals and the frequency of animal puns in names. The species capability differences, discrimination based on species, use of modern clothing and conveniences, and so on are all straight out of the things we have already created. I’m excited because I get to see what Disney would make if they chose to make a furry movie.

        The second reason is that the movie thematically speaks to the validation of identity, which is central to life in the fandom. “In Zootopia, anyone can be anything”, says Mayor Lionheart. Judy Hopps wants to be a cop, but she’s a bunny and fights to be taken seriously. We all know that in the end she will succeed, and that’s fine, but despite the ending being predictable we will all still be happy about this. I want people to take me seriously when I tell them I’m a martial artist, or that I’m a tournament Magic player, or that I’m a lion. Zootopia stands for that being possible. Guardians of the Galaxy discusses exactly the same questions, which is I think contributed massively to it being a smash hit with furries.

        While I appreciate Corgi’s concerns about losing what makes us who we are, I thoroughly reject his claims. Furry excitement about Zootopia, in my opinion, is not blind consumerism. It is excitement about Disney finally coming out as furry and making a movie that discusses one of the most core furry questions.

  5. While I generally agree with what I take to be Corgi’s thesis, I’m not against furries being hyped for this movie; it’s the “furriest” movie that’s come along in a very long time, and it doesn’t have a whole lot of competition in that department. This doesn’t change just because it’s coming from a big studio. I don’t think we should be begrudging anyone that. Excitement over something you think you’re going to really enjoy is (ahem) human nature.

    Having said that, the aspect of our “self-hype” I find a little disconcerting is the narrative we’re building about how Disney is targeting this film at furries. No. They’re not. They can’t. I don’t mean that in a “ooh, Disney would never be associated with furries” way, I mean that in a “there just aren’t enough furries out there for anyone to make a $150M film for” way. They don’t just want a whole damn lot of non-furries to see it, they need that. And they need to sell a whole damn lot of fox and rabbit plushes. It’s not unreasonable to think that aspects of Zootopia knowingly wink at furries, but this is not a movie made to have exclusively furry appeal.

    1. Disney is targeting this film at furries. It doesn’t matter how many tickets they buy. The power of buzz is way beyond that and it starts with niches.

      A piece about that –
      http://dogpatch.press/2016/01/25/year-for-furry-movies/

      The director of “Fursonas” (the documentary that opened the Slamdance film festival, and immediately sold to a mainstream distributor) gave me gossip. He was told by Zootopia crew that they are targeting furries. If the gossip is true then it’s something they would do under tight control not to openly say so (see discussion in the article).

  6. Two words: Star Wars

    Listening to furries worry about hyping a movie too much while a large chunk of the culture around them obsesses about an upcoming ‘Star Wars’ movie all through 2015 didn’t make any point other than furries are really, really unaware about what’s going on in the culture around them.

    In 2016, it’s that, plus late.

  7. I think you’ve overlooked a key part of the origin of this particular “hype”: art. Certainly, none of us have seen Zootopia yet, but not only have we gotten ample introduction to the characters (through trailers and released scenes, as mentioned above), but we’ve also been thoroughly exposed to the //aesthetic// of the film. As an artist, I’ve found the glimpses we’ve gotten of the Zootopia world, particularly character design, to be satisfying in themselves, absent of the movie’s plot. For instance, it makes me grin to watch how the animators have incorporated the real-life gaits of animals into the anthropomorphic counterparts. If the movie turns out horrible, I’ll have already be captive to the visuals.

  8. I believe some the hype is fueled by the hope is that Zootopia will be a good furry film as opposed to another mediocre straight-to-video feature. As of late, Disney has been putting out some quality animated films (Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6) so hope springs eternal.

    I’ll admit to being in that camp; the last significant completely furry Disney movie I can recall was 2005’s “Chicken Little,” not exactly Best Animated Feature material.

  9. There’s probably some hope, bounced around, collectively–that Zootopia will change the mainstream’s awareness, of Furry things, for the positive. Perhaps leading to some desirable integration/recognition.

    I can only speculate whether this will be achieved, but I am ‘intensely’ curious, what kind of impact Zootopia ‘will’ make, if anything, on the world. It’s clearly had an impact on the fandom, and one must wonder whether that is ‘merely’ a product of hype, considering the point brought up here, that ‘Zootopia apparently isn’t doing anything new’.

    But is that really the case, I wonder?

    Perhaps it’s this ‘curiosity’, to see if Zootopia lingers or leaves some profound impact on the furry subculture, and upon the mainstream, that has acted as a catalyst, to this hype. Sure, nothing might come of it–but it’s a chance in the public eye! ‘What if’?

    Oh right. And Shakira has… practically a ‘fursona’ custom-tailored after her… so there’s the dubious and unlikely prospect of ‘celebrity furry-fication’, that makes the notion of mainstream integration more enticing. Someone either really understood how to target furries for marketing, or there’s something more socially profound going on. Flip a coin, I guess.

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