The Furry Impulse

by Simo

It would break, perhaps, the long loneliness that has made man a frequent terror and abomination even to himself

-- Loren Eiseley


Way back in the early 1960s, almost three decades before the first furcon, the philosopher-scientist Loren Eiseley wrote these words in his essay, The Long Loneliness:

"There is nothing more alone in the universe than man. He is alone because he has the intellectual capacity to know that he is separated by a vast gulf of social memory and experiment from the lives of his animal associates."

It is indeed unfortunate that Eiseley died in 1977, and did not get the chance to be the GoH of a furcon. He would have understood. The point of his essay is that man has been screwed over by nature in that there are no other intelligences with whom to interact. There have been a great variety of cultures that exist, and which have existed in the past. Regardless of what culture you're discussing, there have been a few universal dreams common to all: one is flight.

Regardless of how primitive or advanced, this dream of flight has been universal. It has been expressed in myth, legend, and artifacts. We have the Greek story of Daedalus and Icarus, the Indian stories of "vimana", rendered in exquisite technological detail, including the realization that different flying vehicles would require decidedly different configurations for different purposes. The pre-Colombian Inca who were making gold figurines of "jet fighters". A lot of thought obviously went into these designs, and they are indeed quite accurate, even down to decorative flourishes that could be interpreted as shock waves as they approach the sound barrier.

Sometimes, this impulse worked itself out in various attempts to realize the dream. The Japanese built kites that could lift a man. Others, weren't so successful. Much treasure and many lives were sacrificed through history in the attempt to make it happen. Still, a kite or a balloon, isn't really all that satisfying since one still lacks the freedom of birds in flight. It is no coincidence that the Wright Brothers built the first successful airplane almost as soon as internal combustion technology advanced just far enough to make it possible. Of course, the power plant the Wrights used was piss-poor by modern standards: its weight was 180 pounds, it was a four-banger, that developed all of 12 horsepower -- the same as the most modest lawn tractor. What the Wrights flew at Kitty Hawk would be an "ultralight" by today's standards, and every ultralight has four to five times the horsepower of the Wright's first airplane. After the Wrights' first flight, larger airplanes actually required the assistance of a catapult to get airborne, the power plants were so heavy, underpowered, and inadequate. Still, it was good enough, demonstrated the technical viability, and initiated a rapid advance in aviation technology. As with most technologies, it was WW I which drove aviation (and electronic) technological advance.

In the same way, the mythology, folklore and literature of every culture is filled with stories of intelligent animals and humanimals. Some were worshipped as gods; others created for entertainment. Bugs Bunny, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Mickey Mouse all have a very long lineage. You find stories like the Dr. Dolittle series. You have The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells, which includes a speculation on how the furries (because that's what they were) Dr Moreau was creating might actually be created.

What about this totally age inappropriate fascination: Digimon? This whole franchise got started with a fad item: the "digital pet". It grew from there into a half dozen TV series and movies, plus comic books, and games. This is something that, by all rights, should have been forgotten a long time ago (how many kid's cartoons can you name that debuted in 1999; how many people know what a "digital pet" is?). Yet you see Digimon this and Digimon that all over the 'Net. As of this writing, a Google search of "Digimon" returned 7,150,000 hits -- all on a kid's cartoon that went off the air years ago. What could account for that?

It's not very original (what is these days?) It seems to have taken elements from an old movie: Tron. The idea that when a digimon "dies" it dissolves into disorganized bytes, humans who enter the digital world as "data" and are therefore released from the usual laws of physics, all came from that movie. The idea that digimon can "digivolve" to more powerful forms seems to have come from Irish mythology. There are good guys, bad guys, lots of fighting with ray guns senseless mayhem and destruction, etc, and so forth. It relies on the usual kid appeal device of portraying kids as doing ImportantThings™ -- like saving the world -- that just aren't credible. The kid heros are always putting one over on the adults in their lives, whether it's conspiring with the whole class so Takato can sneak his partner, Guilmon, on the bus for the overnight camp-out (they get away with it, of course) to doing what a multi-million dollar, government organization whose director is reduced to telling the commanding general to just stay the hell out of the Tamers' way as they save the whole world can not. They may have laid that on a bit thick, but there is undeniable kid-appeal there.

OK, so we send the kids to the Digital World twice to save the digimon. Then they bring the digimon to the Real World. Send the kids back to the Digital World again. Then bring the digimon back to the Real World. This thing has pretty much run its course by this time. Like Harry Potter, there is nothing left. However, it definitely has not. The fan sites are still there, still quite active, and the following has been persistent.

Digimon is all about humans who interact with non-human characters, most of which are anthropomorphic animals (Fur appeal! And let's not forget that in one episode Impmon actually said he was a furry as if that wasn't already obvious enough.) How else could Digimon survive this long, and among a following well past the ages of those for whom this was intended originally, despite its many manifest weaknesses? By all rights, this should be just another popular culture trend, gone and forgotten by all except for collectors of old pop culture curiosities, like "Pogs" ferinstance. Whatever fan clubs that may have existed should have died out long ago for lack of interest, not be increasing in number and Internet presence. It would seem that it's become quite common for Digimon fans to be making music videos featuring their favorite characters these past couple of years. They're all over You Tube. If Bandai doesn't see fit to provide Digimon fans with new material, they can make their own.

The only explanation for this is the fur appeal. After all, the Powerpuff Girls cartoon made its debut the same year that Digimon Adventure did: 1999. When was the last time you saw anyone using one of those characters for avatar material? Screen saver material? Fanfic material? Music video material?

The Furry Fandom is but one more attempt to bridge that "vast gulf". If there are no intelligent others, we can bring them to life through imagination: through art, fanfic, TV shows, movies, literature, and fursuiting. It isn't entirely original, as all of this has been done before. It isn't entirely satisfactory since it's not real. As for RL anthros, that is just a question of time. Right now, we're still in the "Daedalus and Icarus" phase -- dreaming of what might come to pass some day. However, we are a lot closer and getting closer every day. The advances made in the field of genetic engineering have been tremendous, and are advancing quite rapidly. Those intelligent animals, either by design, or accident, aren't all that far off.

Which brings us to Simo's First Rule of Science: "If a thing can be done, it will be done".

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