Furry Coming of Age

by Simo

One extra singe doesn't do a lot of damage,
we furries have dealt with quite enough spammage.
Though with all that said, the tide is turning.
The wounds are healing and we're quickly learning
That best paw forward is the best way to go.

-- Kurell Raven



This article has been a long time in coming. I have been considering this, and believe that now is the time. As with any social phenomenon, a fundamental shift in current paradigms does not occur all at once. The changes are always subtle, and not readily apparent, even to all those involved. For the last two years, certain indicators that something new is "in the works" have been appearing. Lately, with increasing regularity.

Mainstream Furbashing

So far as the mainstream culture is concerned, furbashing is dead. The "infamous" CSI, "Fur and Loathing" episode was the last hurrah. Mainstream furbashing died with a whimper, rather than a bang. This particular episode was going to be much worse than it turned out to be. The original script took its cue from Plushies and Furries. Indeed, this is why the fictional furcon where the story is centered is called "PAFCON" -- the Plushies and Furries Convention. The reason for that was a last minute rewrite, due to the urging of West Coast Furries. The producers of CSI brought along Darkfox as a technical adviser to tone down considerably a script that was going to be a good deal more lurid. This change occurred so suddenly that the adverts for the show were already airing, and promising much worse. This episode originally aired during the fall "sweeps", in October of 2003. Even though this particular episode did well in the ratings, the MsM was through with treating the fandom as a "dirty joke".

In that regard, Furrydom got off rather light indeed. The worst incident of MsM furbashing was the MTV schlockumentary: Plushies and Furries. Other MsM appearances that are remembered with less than fondness include the Vanity Fair article, "Pleasures of the Fur", and a subplot of the ER episode: "Fear of Committment" that featured a plush-o-phile. Other minor appearances would include "Heavy Petting" in the British tabloid Loaded. The Vanity Fair article sought to link an irrelevancy to Furrydom, and Loaded is simply another tabloid lacking any journalistic credibility. The plush-o-phile story was a subplot, and "Fur and Loathing" turned out to be rather favorable. In contrast, the Star Trek fandom was afflicted with three feature films: Trekkies, Trekkies2 and Free Enterprise. Trekkies2 was an attempt to undo some of the damage that the original Trekkies had done. Obviously, Paramount did not want to totally piss off good customers, and there were lots of complaints about Trekkies. Free Enterprise was the snarkiest of these three movies. This, in turn, led to many an "OMGWTF!!!!-I-am-a-'Trekker'-not-a-'Trekkie'" outburst from the fanbase. Not that the nonfan ever really gave a damn.

We were the "new kids on the block". As with the Trekkies before us, we were the new source of WTF for that media sensationalism which is always ready to serve up stories about weird people and their out-of-the-mainstream interests.

Since 2003, Furrydom has reverted to what it was before the whole Burned Fur mess broke out in September of 1998: a source for "Sunday Supplements" and "human interest" stories about unusual, but harmless, interests. To that end, we have seen:

Furry Thinking

Here is an article about AnthroCon 2006

This one is especially important in that it appeared in the Financial Times

FT WEEKEND MAGAZINE - Of All Things; Pg. 12
All The Rage in the US Business suits are not required at a Philadelphia conference where delegates slip into something furry and act on their animal instincts
By Jennifer Fried
Financial Times; Aug 20, 2005

A unicorn in a miniskirt is checking in at the front desk of the Wyndham Philadelphia hotel. The horn on her forehead points at the clerk as she digs through her purse. A Tony the Tiger lookalike saunters through the lobby alongside a man in combat boots. Near the hotel restaurant, three heavy-set men sit sketching winged creatures on napkins. One of the men has teddy bear ears emerging from either side of his fedora.

Welcome to Anthrocon 2005, an annual convention for "furries" - admirers and dreamers of anthropomorphous animals, many of whom assume animal identities and don ears, tails or even full-body costumes known as fursuits. A joke? A mental illness? No and no. Furry fandom is an identity, a lifestyle, and one that appears to be growing in popularity. This year's Anthrocon drew an estimated 2,800 attendees from all over the world.

The convention features furry art (both family-friendly and "mature"), furry story-telling and a furry charity auction. There is a furry masquerade ball and an awards ceremony honouring the furry community's best creative talents. This year's special guest speakers include Peter Laird, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and animation expert Timothy Albee.

Outside of Anthrocon, furries can keep busy with furry chat-rooms, furry costume design and furry role-playing games. For some, yes, there is also furry sex. "There is that aspect of the fandom, but it's not as big as people make it out to be," says 25-year-old Heidi Deville Clark, a third-time Anthrocon attendee with a round, honest face. Deville Clark came into the scene a few years ago, but like most other furries, says she has had a lifelong fascination with animals who behave like humans. "Personally, I like the art, the costumes, the expression of creativity," she says.

For others at Anthrocon 2005, furriness is about shedding inhibitions. "Here I can be what I can't be in real life," says a 35-year-old computer programmer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, with closely cropped hair, tanned legs and a shy smile. "In my normal life, I own a successful business. I'm very responsible and all that crap." At the moment, the programmer is wearing khaki shorts, a collared shirt and sandals. After lunch, he will take off his street clothes, step into his custom-made, 20lb-plus, full-body fursuit, strap a saddle on his back and become "Fay Fox" - a gregarious carousel fox who gives rides.

Who are these people? The answer, according to Anthrocon attendees, is that furries are not much different from anyone else. Many furries make the case that furry fandom is merely an extension of the anthropomorphising that already permeates American society.

"We buy gasoline that is hawked by a two-legged tiger and another tiger tells us what cereal is GRRRReat," says Dr Samuel Conway, aka Uncle Kage, the 40-year-old Pennsylvania chemist who organises Anthrocon. "We put little bears wearing sweaters into our children's cribs. We name our sports teams after eagles and wolves and lions, and create man-like mascots to represent them."

Even so, furries have a hard time shedding their image as sexual deviants or freaks. On day two of the convention, a Long Island high school senior wearing a star of David necklace stands outside the Wyndham and tries to explain why he could never tell his parents about his alter-ego as a fennick fox. "They just wouldn't get it," he shrugs.

Nearby, an overweight woman wearing bunny ears smokes a cigarette and stares into the distance. It is mid-afternoon and her skin is starting to redden under the Philadelphia sun. The boy continues: "People think of furries as some sort of... " His friend, another high school senior standing beside him, finishes his sentence: "Like we're some sort of psychotic, furotic cult!"

©Copyright The Financial Times Ltd

This is a newspaper which prints news to help investors and businessmen identify hot new markets. Of course, it was only a matter of time until it occurred to someone that there are an awful lot of Furries with considerable income. As the article stated, AnthroCon attracts over a thousand guests from the US and overseas. That's quite a bit of extra change for airlines, hotels, travel agencies, car rentals and other local businesses. They mention Fay Fox whose custom made (by One Fur All Studios) fursuit probably cost a couple grand. That the Financial Times would investigate AnthroCon means that someone whose opinion carries some weight considers Furrydom a potential new marketing demographic. (Capital One (bank) and Frontier Airlines have already had ad campaigns with undeniable fur-appeal.) This may very well be the signal that Furry could become the next "Anime". After all, Anime has been going for some twenty years now. How much more can be milked from it?

The Financial Times, recognised worldwide for its authoritative, accurate, and analytical reporting, is one of the world's leading global business news organisations. The newspaper is printed in 23 cities across the world. It has a daily circulation of more than 435,000 copies, more than one million readers and is available in 140 countries. FT.com, the FT website, is the world's leading audited business website, with more than 3.7 million unique users.


Furbashing on the Net

The signs of disintegration have been appearing for the past year or two. A couple of new "LOL Furries" forums and web sites have died through lack of interest. Of the long established furbash web sites, the decay has been slowly setting in. Activity at these forums has slowed down noticeably, and the old regulars have been disappearing. Here is a PoE thread dedicated to this very web site. It is long since dead, and if you care to slog your way through all the posts, you will see that it quickly takes a detour into a senseless flame war over one misspelled word. There was not much interest in doing any furbashing, and one of their regulars ("Whicker") shut that down simply by pointing out that if you don't like Furry web sites, then don't visit them. Remember: this is the web site that made a name for itself as one of the first furbash sites.

Their main competitor, Something Awful, had a five page thread about AnthroCon 06. If it's still available, you can See it Here. Given the notorious nature of this particular web site, you will find that this thread simply reports on Anthrocon. There is very little snarking, and what does occur, is quickly shut down. As "Capt. Cowgirl" put it: "The number of goons defending Furrydumb is disheartening." Yes, even they are growing tired of furbashing.

"I think everything that can be said about furries has already been said, over and over again. Now everyone's just bored." Here is an insightful comment at another one of the "LOL Furries" sites. It appears at the head of this five pager: CYD Forums Yes, you sure got that right, and you are not alone in your predicament.

Regardless of anything Furries do, the trend is doomed by its very nature. A "Lookit what dat st00pid Furry said/did/drew/wrote..." post will be answered with a: "You think that's bad, well, how about this one..." post. And so on, in a downward spiral of futility. After all, the portrayal of Furrydom on these sites has completely disconnected from the reality of Furrydom. It is a trend that can go only so far.

Furries haven't been providing as much raw "lulz" material now that Furrydom is maturing. We already had the snarky articles from tabloids like Loaded, and magazines that skate on the razor's edge of journalistic respectability, such as Vanity Fair, and all the rest of that MsM "bad publicity". Contrary to all the overblown fears (or hopes as the case may be) Furrydom survived and prospered. Furries everywhere discovered that their real lives were not impacted when they returned to work/school the day after. The mundanes just did not care, even if they bothered to give it any serious thought in the first place. Far from having large scale negative consequences -- such as cancelled cons, being run out of stores, restaurants, miniature golf courses, bowling alleys, or incidents of anti-fur violence, for wearing ears and tails or fursuits in public -- these shows and articles brought in new affiliates. Just yesterday I received a fanmail whose author stated: "I finally discovered furry at last at the age of xxxx when I saw that episode of Sex2k called 'Plushies and Furries' on MTV,". Yeah, even that one did some good. When the older fans heard this from the newer fans, they revised their opinions accordingly. After being burned by trolling such as This, furfans wised up and learned that unfed trolls quickly give up. The tendency to claim "fursecution", to go e-crazy at the slightest criticism or hint of snarking, isn't what it was just one year ago. Despite being known as the most thin-skined fans, Furries have been toughening up their hides.

And let's not forget that furcons have been expanding beyond California. Now, California, especially the coastal "San-san" megopolis, has its own unique standards of "normality" that the rest of the country does not share. Most of the incidents that the "LOL Furries" sites exploited were mostly coming out of the West. Cons held elsewhere enforce standards of behaviour more in keeping with local customs. These are invariably more conservative standards of behaviour. They really have no choice if they expect the hotels and convention centers to invite the convention back next year. The success of AnthroCon has shown for a long time now that a clean con can be a successful con. That means far less freaky behaviour in the public eye. The more the mundanes see Furries behaving "normally", the more readily they send whatever furbash propaganda they see to mental /dev/null.

All that remains is to avoid doing something stupid, such as repeating past mistakes, and allow nature to take its course.

We shall see...

Update: Latest Article on the Fandom from The Register

For those of you not familiar with this publication, it's an on-line magazine for programmers and other computer "geeks". With the slogan, "Biting the hand that feeds IT", and its vulture mascot, it takes a rather irreverent look at the corporate world of information technology. The Register has done an article on Furry-dom: How Furry is It? by Amy Coombs. The Register frequently takes on a snarky attitude (especially where Microsoft is involved) but not this time. Being that this is a "geek" mag, they focus on the involvement of Silicon Valley IT representation. Of course, Silicon Valley and the UNIX Hacker subculture has played a large role in the fandom for a very long time.

As with all articles about Furry-dom since 2003, there is none of that "Oh Em Gee: lookit da freeks!" aspect to the article such that you had after the rampage of the Burned Furs and the MTV Sex2K atrocity.

One more nail in the coffin of MsM Furbashing.

One more sign of the coming of age of Furry-dom.

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