Furry Fandom and the Internet forced back to roots by viral outbreak
The internet was seen as a major catalyst for the furry fandom finding one another during the times before we held conventions. During that earlier period in the 1990s, conventions and meets were rare, and finding one another was done mostly through the chat rooms and message boards of the past. There was no bandwidth for video or sharing major animation projects, therefore most of our intimate conversations were textual.
For many younger furries, it was a time that was lost in the annals of a distant history. Instead they found themselves joining in amongst a wave of growing conventions being held in various places around the world on any given weekend. Ones where those in custom fursuits march out in the streets openly rather than feeling a stifling isolation of being cooped up in hotel spaces, with a handful of home made creations, being wary of a hostile media looking for a freak show.
Coming out of 2019, it seemed that the time where furry was just an internet thing was fully behind it. However a series of unfortunate events were in line for 2020, a year that has led humanity to be forced into their rooms by an irate Mother Nature as an easily spread virus has forced governments around the globe to take drastic measures to slow its spread and put strict limits on social gatherings. A situation which has forced both the furry fandom, and the internet that brought it together, back to their roots.
The Internet reverts to a tool of defensive
The technology that has brought together the furry community and delivers your swag directly to your door started with a very different function in mind. In the 1960s funding was pushed into a project to prevent military or research intelligence from being lost to a nuclear attack on vulnerable facilities in range of a nuclear strike. To do this the military looked to decentralize the information infrastructure so that the loss of a facility to an attack would allow other facilities to retain copies of vital information.
Therefore the old adage of “what is shared on the internet stays on the internet” to describe how once something is posted online it will never go away, for better or worse, has its truth embedded in the internet’s origin. That was, indeed, the original intent of the internet’s design.
Since those earlier days the internet moved away from its purely defense role and has found its way into the establishment of communities and has evolved into a more commercial usage. So much so that “.com” was, and still is, the most common suffix to addresses indicating commercial/private domains. To most users of the internet, its foundation as a network for information defense had been long lost to its usage as a community creation and commerce tool.
So much so that the government has basically abandoned the sharing of vital information from .gov domains and instead has started to just join in on the .com social networks, which has led us into our vulnerabilities to misinformation and confusion.
But regardless of this evolution in the internet’s use, we find ourselves in a world where governments have been forced to implement social distancing tactics to lower the spread of COVID-19. This forces us to, once again, use the internet in a role of tactical defense. Of decentralizing people from clustered hubs of their inner-city meeting spaces to coming together in their own homes. Instead of data being spread out over a large space, it is our own abilities and presence that are now the items that are being kept safe by keeping ourselves out of one basket.
Little could those who designed ARPANET back in its infancy have foreseen that a tool being designed to help protect the country from intelligence loss, would instead be the tool that would protect her population from the wrath of disease. But in 2020, the internet has become the greatest defense to connect with one another when we cannot directly and to try and remain productive in our data infrastructure while in mandated self-isolation.
And so while the furries are forced to retreat into its virtual borders, they have been here before.
For furries a return to a communicative isolation
While Usenet’s alt.fan.furry may never be what it was before, online communities that once were slowly losing reverence have all of a sudden found a second coming in the days of isolation.
SecondLife, a virtual chat room with graphical avatars has started to see bustling activity. The Gay Yiff Club, a particularly popular spot that has been around for over a decade, is virtually elbow to elbow at almost all hours in these times where the real world clubs and meets developed by the fandom have been forced into abandon. Other clubs such as "The Arc" have also been crammed to the gills.
Some of the younger furs have turned toward the recent advent of streaming to pass the time in isolation. Conventions, in order to try and raise funds for displaced charities, have also come together to try and encourage these streamers to help in this cause. Keep Calm Con was an example of this for Furnal Equinox, or Down Home Furcon.
This can be great for those who couldn't afford conventions. Through their convention streams of panels that would have otherwise been exclusive on site, it will open the doors to people who otherwise would have been shut out by the exuberant costs of attending events in the downtown metropolitan cities. It should be noted here, though, that some conventions streamed their events even when the conventions were active, showing how important sharing our activities via the web is to our fandom.
However this does come at a cost through the loss of revenue for artists, dealers, and conventions themselves due to the hiatus being enforced. So those furries that can, should certainly support artists and others with the money they would have otherwise spent on hotels, travel, and etc this year. If the financial situation of those furs do not change in this highly volatile time, of course. As the airline always says, put on your own face mask before assisting others. Which may have something to do with them being the first to ask for a bailout. Now if you'll excuse me I need to prepare my anus for when they tell the TSA to do cavity searches on me for that joke.
The foundation of our fandom is mostly produced within our own imagination, and in a world where the large corporations who try to invoke our imagination through their movies and entertainment are forced to curtail their operations, the playing field has been leveled. Steven Colbert and Seth Meyers are now doing blog style videos in their homes, meaning that my YouTube channel where I look at a camera and yammer to dead silence was just ahead of its time.
If this need to isolate maintains for a long period of time, the amount of new entertainment from larger institutions is going to slow over this crisis. This will give ample opportunity to consume works crafted by individuals that can be created in isolation as well as enjoyed in such. In fact, if you have a written work, comic, or game that you enjoy you can always take this opportunity to show support by writing up a review for Flayrah (or DogPatchPress/Furry Book Review/Amazon/etc).
The other end of the tunnel
Coming together to enjoy our activities in each other’s company through the internet in spite of the crippling uncertainty of a hostile world is something the fandom has developed a skill for. Life for most furries are uncertain even during the so-called 'good times'. We’re so skilled at this that the Finnish backed press has seemed to suggest adopting a fursona in these trying times. Must be we have shown our ability to try and maintain cheer in adversity so that it’s been seen as a mental benefit in moments such as this.
In fact, this sentiment was echoed in that Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal segment that I had mentioned prior. For a group of people who found each other through isolation, perhaps we will be looked upon to inspire those who find themselves there now themselves. The humans, they’re not alright man.
So fear not, for the year will pass, and those of us who make it will hopefully come out of it stronger and wiser than when we entered. I do anticipate that there will be a handful of obituaries that will need to be written for our site before this wrathful Pangolin Plague is through. It’s important to know that things are going to change, some things for the worse. But hopefully it’ll be enough to snap us out of not taking the time to enjoy the smaller pleasures in life. Good company, fiery spirit, and a helping paw when needed will see us through.
And when we are allowed to march the streets and hold parades again, the humans we share this planet with will certainly feel blessed to be able to enjoy the festivities with us once again.