Feeding the Wolves at the Door... and Not Feeling Guilty
[[i]This was written for an English 1A research paper for my college. I had promised some people in a group I'm in I'd post it if I got more than 90% on the paper. That was about a year ago, and I got a 100% on the paper with favorable reviews from my teacher and a few others, so I figured I'd put it on here to share with you all.[/i]]
You’ve probably seen them before: those ridiculous mascots you’ve seen cheering on teams at football games and wandering around Disney theme parks; those strange individuals who have littered their rooms with pictures of wolves wearing clothes, cats engaging in sophisticated conversation, dogs playing poker. You know of those immature adults who never quite grew out of that stage when they loved cartoons and now currently owns every single Disney movie from Robin Hood to The Jungle Book to The Aristocats. It may surprise you, but their number is growing and growing fast; they breed like rabbits. They get together in large groups and participate in the strangest social events and manners we find ourselves uncomfortable around. To think of all that fur and all the new ideas it brings with it makes it evident that our society needs to take a step back and take note of the economic, artistic, and social benefits that the furry fandom provides.
With a rapidly growing fan base, the furry fandom is one of the largest subcultures reaching into the modern era. Centered on the love of animals with human-like traits, called anthropomorphics, the furry fandom has created in itself both a way of bringing people together with their love of the anthropomorphic in literature and arts and a place where the inner child can run free. The modern furry fandom’s influence reaches beyond the boundaries of the anthropomorphic lovers into modern society, providing numerous economic, artistic, and social benefits both inside and outside the subculture. While there are numerous popular culture fandoms out there, the furry fandom is just one example of our society and interactions between subcultures and how quick we are to judge something simply by its outer appearance.
There is an annual event in the eastern United States that takes place every June since its inception in 1997 and boasts an attendance of almost three thousand people each year. This is Anthrocon, the largest furry convention held anywhere in the world and a very large source of income for the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania every year. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on the 2008 Anthrocon convention, “The attendees last year brought in $2.5 million to the city, [Anthrocon spokesman Karl] Jorgensen said. More than $3 million is expected this year” (Brandolph 1). Based on the three thousand attendees to Anthrocon, each convention-goer adds around another $10,000 to the city’s economy each year. That includes the costs it takes to host the event, something which Pittsburgh does not seem to mind in the five years it has hosted the convention since 2005.
Obviously this is not a largely significant amount of money; three million dollars is nothing in a city as large as Pittsburgh, and the event could cost millions of dollars in and of itself to host, but the economic significance reaches beyond the city of Pittsburgh and conventions to the people who make the fandom their source of income. One of the largest businesses within the furry fandom is the business of fursuiting, the creation of mascot-like characters called fursuits, and it is an expensive one. “Starting at about $500, they can top out at $8,000 for professionally made costumes with electronic jaws and ears” (Brandolph 1), and waitlists for suits can be up to two years in length. While only 12 to 15 percent of furries ever wear suits (Brandolph 1), they are usually the ones that stand out in a convention, and the number is growing. Special accommodations are made for fursuiters at conventions, including cooling rooms for the hot suits. Top line fursuiters often include Don’t Hug Cacti and Mixed Candy, two companies whose suits can meet or exceed the two thousand dollar mark, and the business extends into the furs that make fursuits on their own, mostly as an extra source of income.
Melissa Saunders, hereafter known by her fursona Luthien Nightwolf, is a 28 year old artist from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, whose job consists entirely of commissions, paid pieces of personalized artwork from other furries, and she’s not ashamed about her real life intermixing with her life as a furry. “Since I am a professional furry artist,” Luthien stated, “my life pretty much revolves around being in this fandom – it’s my source of income, as well as my social sphere.” Artists can vary as much as fursuits, though Melissa’s/Luthien commissions tend to be a bit cheaper; Luthien can sketch, ink, color, and create a background of a single character picture for around twenty five dollars for a 6 inch by 9 inch drawing, with the basic price being a sketch of a single character for around ten dollars and five dollars included for each addition, while other, top tier artists such as Goldenwolf can do the same commission for about five times the price. The art is business for them, and fairly well known and popular artists like Luthien can receive over 120 commissions per year, if not more, using the proceeds to go towards more art supplies and even rent, showing that the creativity of these artists is doubling as a source of financial income.
Aside from being a business, art is art and art and aesthetics are a large part of the furry community and culture. Entire sites are dedicated to the production, creation, and sharing of artwork, with places like FurAffinity.net taking usage of the Internet as a full-scale artwork sharing and socializing site. Furry artists work for fun and critiques, and sites like FurAffinity.net allow for users to share their artwork with others and allow for watchers to critique an artist’s work; if the work is consistently good and an artist stands out, members can choose to watch the artist and get notified of future posts. Thousands of users post on these sites, with artwork ranging from artists and art commissions to short stories, poetry, novels, and even roleplaying and music; Bucktown Tiger is a fairly famous furry pianist whose work can be seen (or rather heard) on FurAffinity.net.
It is not just the creativity, however, that makes art a large portion of the furry fandom. It is the ability to share the artwork with others via these sites; Bucktown Tiger probably would not have gotten far musically had not he posted his work on FurAffinity.net. Luthien Nightwolf notes that the art portion is primarily fun in the context of seeing other artist’s work: “I like interacting with others online and in person when we all play these characters we’ve created; it’s interesting to see what other people have come up with.” The distribution of artwork allows for others to join together and critique, admire, and even socialize, allowing for other artists to get ideas of others work and inspire to create something of their own.
Art also is one of the largest cultural influences on the fandom. Lillica, otherwise known by her real life name Laura, said in an interview with Carrie Sloan of Lemondrop.com that “modern American cartoons are rife with anthropomorphic characters […]. They portray anthropomorphs as larger-than-life, with intense personalities and grand adventures, and it ends up boiling over into a subculture, which is the furry fandom.” Lillica has a point; the comedic endeavors of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester and Tweety, and the animal fables and stories by Walt Disney, ranging from old fairy tales like to Robin Hood with the titular character as a fox to the more modern Oliver and Company based on Charles Dickens‟ novel, spur the imagination of young kids. As Luthien Nightwolf points out, “If you grow up watching cartoon animals that walk and talk, it’s not far a leap to want to create one for yourself.” Despite all this exposure, the furry fandom is not for everyone and most people eventually grow out of this phase; for the furries, the effects of the phase just stuck with them for longer and grew in their mind until it turned into something much larger: a passionate hobby that extended into adulthood.
Art as a large portion of the culture of the furry fandom mirrors the significance of art in modern society outside of subcultures. According to Harold Williams of USA Today, art is a part of our culture and a part of our education system that is quickly vanishing: “[…] the creation of images is a matter of the mind that calls for inventive problem-solving capacities, analytic and synthetic forms of reasoning, and the exercise of judgment” (Williams 3). Does this say that furries, with the large reliance on art, are smarter than the rest of the community? Based on personal observation (some artists introduce smut and filth into the equation, which I’ll go into later), no, but it does mean that the furries do have a significantly cultured status that the education system and modern society is quickly losing. Sure, there are famous museums, from the Norton Simon museum in Pasadena, California to the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., but modern society does not dive into the arts as quickly as the furry fandom does; with some exceptions, most furries do eventually begin drawing their own artwork and creating fursonas, anthropomorphic animal avatars used by furries within the furry fandom and posting it to sites like FurAffinity.net. Art within the fandom allows for these furs and their fursonas to be brought together to socialize with other furs from around the globe.
Furries, in short, are very social. That is, after all, the whole point of these hundreds of conventions that host thousands of furries every year, these internet art sites, and online chat rooms such as FurAffinity.net: they are all places where seemingly isolated furries can come into contact with others of their own kin. Shari Caudron, a writer for USA Today and Reader’s Digest, on a trip to the Califur Confurence furry convention in Costa Mesa, California (otherwise known as the accepted birthplace of the furry fandom), notes that “there are furry conventions all over the world, including Malaysia, Argentina, and Russia, and best-guess estimates put the number of furries in America at anywhere from 200,000 to well over 800,000 people – and growing rapidly” (Caudron 186).
Furries also tend to be culturally and ideologically diverse due to the large socialization and are often very tolerant of others; David J. Rust’s “The Subculture of Furry Fandom, a Subculture Study” notes: “Given that the subculture is so young and rather accepting of divergent views and beliefs, it is somewhat odd to see the relatively small percentage of racial minorities in Furry Fandom” (Rust 6). While around 85% of furries are male, the aforementioned Luthien Nightwolf is one of around 15% of female furs in the fandom, and the female’s presence is growing (Rust 7). Furs can be religious, coming from Christianity, Judaism, NeoPagan, and even Eastern Philosophical beliefs, or they can be part of the 43 percent of furs who are either agnostic or atheist. Many furs are students, with Rust noting about 31% of the furry population are students, but other jobs tend to include artists, computer professions, business/management careers, with even a few legal experts and researchers thrown into the mix (Rust 8). Furs can also have different ideas on sex; 25% are heterosexual, 48% are bisexual, and 27% are either homosexual or uncertain of their sexual orientation (Rust 8). And, most surprisingly, each group gets along just fine with the others; the animosity towards one group of furries‟ ideology among other furs is hardly there; I’ve even managed to get a religious-themed commission from a pagan furry artist (Luthien Nightwolf) without quarrel and with respect (she even added more religious symbolism), and interactions such as this tend to be quite common. Predominantly Christian artist Xian (pronounced like Christian) Jaguar uses anthropomorphic caricatures of religious figures, including Jesus as a lion, in her artwork, while Luthien even delves into her pagan traditions and higher reliance on the natural for her artwork, and yet I’ve seen no criticism from one artist to the other. Try imagining that in a modern society where Americans still seem to harbor a grudge against the Russians and vice versa for what happened during the Cold War.
But the furry fandom is not all entirely free and happy; the mixed ideologies accepted within the furry fandom are hardly tolerated at all outside of the furry fandom. Primarily dealing with the taboo of sex and the fandom, most outsiders often judge furries harshly based on simple though completely biased statements. Vanity Fair magazine’s article “Pleasures of the Fur” commonly deals with the sexual portion of the furry fandom, introducing many odd sexual fetishes looked down on by the general public, including, but not limited to, the relatively tame act of “skritching,” an action very much like petting a cat, to the more extreme actions like vore, arousal via being eaten, and plushophilia, arousal from stuffed animals. And it is disgusting. Researcher Katharine Gates told Vanity Fair’s George Gurley that: “[…] when I was a little kid, I used to [become aroused] to the fantasy of being eaten by a pack of wolves‟” (Gurley 7). And Vanity Fair’s article is just the starting point: furs tend to get aroused over multiple things, hypnotism, foot fetishes, and vore becoming common in furry artwork, the practices of tasteful nudity and admiration of form spurred on by the Greeks having gone out the window.
Furthermore, it is wondered whether or not exposure to these things, especially at the young age most furs enter the fandom (high school and college students), will allow the furry to grow up into a fully capable human adult. Psychiatrist Jim Sorrel, when interviewed by KETV News, Omaha, Nebraska, told reporters that “Many people have lots of loneliness, sadness, worries in their lives […] and we all find ways to cope,” yet wonders whether or not these actions are detrimental to a healthy lifestyle, particularly the act of fursuiting, which to some is absurd and a potential way to hide oneself from reality. Considering most sex appeal in the fandom is found in skritching and furpiles composed of multiple furs in suits cuddling together and grooming each other’s suits, it’s not surprising the fursuits and fursuiters have gained a bad reputation.
Most furs within the fandom are outraged. Lillica told Lemondrop.com’s Carrie Sloan: “Not all of us have sex in fursuits! Seriously, thanks to the media, that is our BIGGEST misconception!” (Sloan 12). Rust notes that less than three percent of the fandom ever take part in sexual practices (Rust 8). Luthien Nightwolf explained that “I think when you mention Furries to someone, they immediately think you dress up in animal costumes and have sex in animal costumes,” then went on to say “I haven’t met a single person yet who is into, or would allow, anything like that.” Xian Jaguar, in a conversation with Shari Caudron, explained that “„while people here might be drawing sexually explicit scenes, or acting overly affectionate in public, they are not all going upstairs and having sex. Believe me, they’re still waaaay too repressed‟” (Caudron 205). This ought to tell people something: if the entirety of modern society is obsessed with sex, then accusing someone of the same act is very hypocritical. Think about it: society has been drawing nudes and sexual scenes since the beginning of time, and this was even heightened in the Renaissance and even more in modern artwork with the evolution of the mostly taboo hobby of pornography (sometimes referred to by the term “pron” within the furry fandom).
Centered on the love of animals with human-like traits, the furry fandom has created an artistically focused, socially centered, economically beneficial society that manages to reach beyond its own culture and into our own. Sure, the fandom has its problems, but even furries know they have not yet managed to create a fur-topian society and that, beneath the fur, they are human and make the same mistakes as everyone else. Perhaps, before we start to point the finger and the blame at the relatively young furry fandom, and every other subculture out there, we should take a few steps back and look at our own society; what wrongs we have committed, what problems we have created, what injustices we have done. Luthien Nightwolf once told me that “I think that as the fandom spreads it will become more accepted, once the general population has been properly introduced to it. I think our planet can definitely benefit from a group of people who tend to favor the animals over human ambition.”