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Where do furries come from?

Edited by GreenReaper as of Sat 22 Jan 2011 - 09:35
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Tateru Nino, a Second Life writer, puts forward an often overlooked force in the creation of furries, namely: mainstream culture.

See also WikiFur's article on the history of the fandom, and contributor Cannon Fodder's writeup about the fandom that happened before the fandom.



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That was good, and it follows what I've been thinking to myself for several years now.

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I think that essay misses the point slightly. Yes, there are anthropomorphic characters in mainstream culture but that has always been the case. Why has the furry fandom only emerged in the last few decades when anthropomorphic characters have been around for thousands of years? Either something else has influenced people to become furry, perhaps the proliferation of tv shows with anthropomorphic characters, or some restrictive influence has disappeared. If those shows are why people are becoming furs then it would be better not to say mainstream culture as the influence, as that has always been available, but perhaps a greater access to it. Nowadays most houses will have access to a TV, something that was not available beforehand.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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My theory is not a proliferation of anthropomorphic characters; as you and the article (and everyone under the sun) has already pointed out, they have always been prolific.

No, I believe the mid-80s comic book "maturation" is too blame; superheroes gained a modicum of respect, and funny animal fans (a genre just as connected with comics as animation) probably wanted the same respect.

They, uh, didn't get it. To put it mildly.

More recently, both anime and Pixar have give animation more mainstream "respect;" furry seems to be in a state of once bit, twice shy, but I think the trends are good that furry comics and art may start to get a little respect in the near future.

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If you read my comment again you'll see I didn't just say that them being there was what caused the furry fandom. I already pointed out that anthro characters have been around for a much longer time than the fandom. The part about the proliferation that I do support is that more than 50 or so years ago there was much less access to 'furry' content. People only had access to books, which may contain anthro characters, but the fandom is primarily a visual fandom. In the last 50 years and as the fandom emerged what became far more available were TV's and a greater access to shows with furry characters. So the amount of anthro characters people were exposed to would have increased.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Reasonable theory; I think we're both right, actually. You're explaining the reasons why it happened; I'm explaining why it is the way it is. Both theories are compatible. Except, I guess they'd both still only actually be hypothesis at this point, really. I know I haven't actually "tested" my theories.

Sorry. I wasn't "rebutting" your theory about "lots of anthro characters," because, as you pointed out, it wasn't your theory. You just didn't really present any theory; so I presented one.

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It's simply this: When one person does something a little or enjoys something unusal in the older days they had to learn some of the more what to some may seem childish hobbies by breaking through the layer of an individual they commit themselves to day to day.

On the internet on can put that case forward in anonymously. Therefore it's the first thing you'd know about those around you instead of the last.

Sure you could create groups and all that, but furries are a minority everywhere and searching for one without the internet is extremely tough. Especially since knowing they're not along in the world is probably what influenced other to express such things as an outward part of their identity (which as a result makes them easier to find IRL. I could give you a list of individuals I met through college who I knew they were furry, but I never told them I was one myself.)

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Well, let's take a look.

Mainstream society actively cultivates and encourages the creation of furs and furry fandom,

I read the description in our article, and thought maybe we were talking countercultures and subcultures, (like I once did), but instead I got "some people like animals besides furries, too!"

Thanks. I'd missed that.

and then looks down on them when they are produced.

It's hard to look down on something you don't know exists.

strong emotional aftertastes


Giggle. Snort.

Furrydom was pretty much the first human social activity

Whoah. Wow. Okay. That's pretty ... Well. Fighting the urge to start skimming, now.

After that, it never went away, being a part of many religious rituals and festivals, down through the centuries, as well as becoming a strong branch of Mummery in the middle ages.

If I can convince one person on this planet that furry DOES NOT equal mythology, I can die right then and there, and feel like I've lived a fulfilling life. Honestly.

Animals are strong brands and fantastically successful trademarks.

Okay, this statement is correct, but also beside the point. God bless our furry hearts, we got one thing right when we insisted we be called anthropomorphic animal fans; we give animals human characteristics, among them, a strong yearning to be unique. Furry characters do not follow classical animal symbolism; neither do they specifically set out to subvert it.

Furry characters are unique; animal characteristics of furry characters are not shortcuts to personality insights. They are purely aesthetic.

No more commentary for a while, as I found nothing either inane enough to mock or insightful enough to comment upon. Until around here ...

that it is somehow desirable that these activities instantly cease at some vague and unspecified age and that continuing to admire someone or something fictional for the positive qualities that they represent is somehow defective;

Here the author approaches the problem of neoteny in "geek" subcultures. Neoteny is the retaining of "juvenile" characteristics into adulthood. The classic scientific example is "cuteness." Really. Young animals are cute (they've all but got a "cute formula"); this causes adult animals to respond to the "cuteness" with "nurturing" feelings. Usually, once juvenile animals pass into adulthood, they can take care of themselves, so they no longer need to be cute. However, in rare circumstances, cuteness can be retained; this is a furry site, so I don't need to even bother providing a link to the Russian tame foxes, where foxes were bred for "tameness," but also retained a high amount of "cuteness" during the taming process, suggesting that "tameness" might also be neotenous.

Now, there are about 2000 different ways to define "geek" and "nerd" (and Wikipedia has the articles to prove it), but one possibly defining characteristic is neoteny; in a nutshell, the continued interest in what some would consider "childish" activities or entertainments, sometimes expressed derogatively with the term "manboy" or "manchild" (I've never seen "womangirl," probably because it doesn't roll off the tongue very well). Most fantastic genres have been hit with the dual criticism of "childishness" and "escapist." Furry, mostly "childish;" in fact, it's probably the uber-example of a genre criticized as childish (the other major criticism being, paradoxically, it's too "adult").

Perhaps the most interesting response to this criticism was C.S. Lewis (one of the original fantasists, and a noted fan of talking animals), who once wrote:

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

In I believe the same essay, he also quoted J.R.R. Tolkein's response to the criticism of the fantastic genres' use of escapism:

The only people who should fear escapism are jailers.

Which is actually a pretty damning criticism of our culture.

Anyway, moving on.

essentially makes you much the same as the folks who dress up in fursuits at cons and dance to conspicuous Nine Inch Nails tracks; that is: unremarkable … human.

Well, that's just freaking depressing, right there.

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I don't disagree with most of what you said, although I think referring to neoteny is more nuanced in the case of such subcultures as opposed to the more clear cut traditional use of the word with physical biology.

One could just call something juvenile if associated with a majority of children but a minority of adults. Then it would follow a lot of geek subcultures would be neoteny (along with many other things, like maybe arts and some sports). But I think this oversimplification communicates little, not to mention is dependant on a given culture and time.

Consider the familiar examples of comics and cartoons. Many have considered these childish, and they are used frequently for material intended for children. But how much do the comics and cartoons intended for broad audiences and adults have in common with ones for children? I would argue it is the underlying themes, composition and structure makes some more childish than others. And at some point people noticed that such media are not age-specific and there has been cultural shifts.

So to me it seems hard to pin labels like juvenile and neoteny on something like that, where the lack of adult interest seems more to do with cultural momentum and practical reasons (e.g. why cartoons work well for kids shows). I used that example instead of furry, because I think the furry fandom has a more complicated mix of things. And I am not trying to suggest there is a problem with childish interests, but when people defend such things, like with the Lewis quote, my thought often is: "But wait, is the thing being discussed actually childish anyway?" A lot of such things seem to have broader appeal than some give credit to, or only are superficially the same as something childish, differing in some underlying way.

One other minor thing, I never really agreed with the strong reactions some people have with calling old mythology furry. Some people do go too far with it or say some related stupid things, but I think that is different than what most intended when referring to such mythology. I guess I am giving the benefit of the doubt by assuming people are just being loose with wording, saying it was furry to mean it was an early example of animal anthropomorphism. I do think it is relevant to understanding the development of the fandom, that anthropomorphism has been around a long time before the fandom. A lot of other fandoms and genres can't say the same thing, being based on things with very modern origins and often following more directly from those origins.

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I'm borrowing "neoteny" for my own purposes, and giving it a new definition; it's totally allowed, and one of the nice things about language.
And at some point people noticed that such media are not age-specific and there has been cultural shifts.

Look, some people are going to call comics and cartoons childish, regardless of content. Quick question; think of someone you consider "conservative," then ask yourself "would this person consider a something 'childish' with nothing to go on other than it is a cartoon?" What I'm saying is while there have been shifts in perception, there are still many, many, many people who consider cartoons, comic books and video games as for kids. That goes triple if it involves talking animals.

I'm not strictly talking about reality; I am talking about many people's perceptions of reality. This is why violence and sexuality is currently a hot topic in video games, and has been with comic books in the past (and will probably become an issue with animation in the future). A game-maker, comic book creator, or animatior may intend his audience to be adults; his main audience may in fact be adults; but many people will still percieve that his work is intended for children, because he or she believes all video games/comic books/cartoons are automatically for children. The fact that this perception is incorrect doesn't change the emotional reaction to overt sexuality and/or violence "marketed to children."

Of course, it is now fairly acceptable for adults to partake in entertainment specifically created for children without needing to bring children along. I find the need to defend watching a children's show or reading a children's book as "it's for all ages", well, actually a sign of immaturity, as illustrated by the Lewis quote.

Just watch/read/whatever your darn Shrek sequel/Harry Potter novel/whatever. You're not a bad person for reading it, though some people might think so.

I do think it is relevant to understanding the development of the fandom, that anthropomorphism has been around a long time before the fandom.

I would like you to defend this.

As you yourself point out, most modern fandoms and genres are, well, modern. I think it's just some false pride to say furry has a "pedigree." For one thing, people would not be as offended by it as they often are if it had really been around forever.

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"For one thing, people would not be as offended by it as they often are if it had really been around forever."

Tell that to gays and black people...

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Good point and well made.

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Of course with a cultural shift, someone conservative will disagree by definition. But the example's point wasn't that people stopped seeing something as childish, but merely that such perceptions are fluid and far from universal. This, to me, suggests the description "childish" may be poorly assigned. To call something childish I think should require an argument that it actually is child specific and immature, or at least an argument that an activity is perceived as such by participants. Otherwise, if only an outsider's perception, the description isn't a fundamental characteristic.

What I posted was more general commentary, not meant to necessarily disagree with you, as I wasn't sure how much of that part was how you thought vs. commentary on how some people think. What I am trying to say, relevant to the original article, is that the desire of an interest or activity to fade at a certain age has not one, but two possible problems: presuming childish interests are inappropriate for adults or presupposing something to be childish in the first place.

In regards to the last bit, I wouldn't say the fandom has pedigree, especially compared to general science fiction fandom, or Janeites. I think the long history of anthropomorphism and things that, at least partially, overlap with furry themes is relevant to understanding the fandom's development, but not the actual development itself. Some people talk as if a fandom originates from a subject's appeal. But the age of the base subject in this case shows forms of the appeal have been around a long time, but only recently did a fandom actually appear. So that history serves as a reminder that the development of a fandom depends on more than just the subject matter. Plus understanding the appeal is still important. (And I suppose it is important too as a reminder that the internet didn't invent anthropomorphism, for less informed, or less anthro-attentive, readers.)

This isn't specific to just the furry fandom, although I think more obvious in the case of furries. Like with asking about the origins of the Star Trek fandom, it is really easy to just say it came straight from the TV show and talk of appeal of the show. But this could miss out on the environment that led to such a fandom forming within a few years after the show, as opposed to some other later time.

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it is really easy to just say it came straight from the TV show and talk of appeal of the show.

But, you know, if there wasn't a show ...

Your comment here reminds me those shows you sometimes used to see on the Discovery Channel, where they'd take a submersible down to the Titanic and muse philosophically, and they'd be advertised as "finally revealing the mystery of what sank the Titanic!"

And I'm watching this and I'm going "What MYSTERY!? They ran into a freaking ICEBERG! I don't care if the nuts and bolts were rusty; if they hadn't ran into the GIANT WALL OF ICE at FULL SPEED they probably wouldn't've sunk!"

To explain the metaphor, we try to make the sinking of the Titanic more than it was; a ship sank. The fact that it was advertised as unsinkable is ironic, sure, but that means nothing. It has become a symbol of "humanity's hubris," or whatever, so we try and find ways to prove it was "doomed" from the start. When in actuality, there was a tragic accident; if there had been no iceberg, the ship would not have sank.

Likewise, furries take furry importantly. But when it comes down to it, what we are taking importantly is cartoon animals. FULL STOP. When put bluntly, it doesn't sound that ... important. Really, is that all it is? Yes. That's really all it is. Appealing to some "rich tradition" of furry going "back millennia" is complete and utter B.S. foisted upon furry in order to make it sound more important that it is.

It is simply fear of not being taken seriously for taking furry seriously. I believe I've circled back to Lewis here.

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A short, one sentence summary of why the Titanic sunk would just mention the iceberg. A longer talk of why the sinking happened as it did would bring in more ancillary details, like the ship's construction. That doesn't change the importance or necessity of the iceberg, but neither does that make less important points irrelevant. They are there to answer more detailed questions, e.g. "Why didn't it sink slower or faster?"

Likewise, a sentence or short paragraph summary of origins of furry fandom should not mention historic anthropomorphism, but I think it can be used to make a point or two if going into more detail. The pre-fandom history doesn't make the fandom more tradition-based, it doesn't make furry more important, it doesn't mean furries should be taken more serious, or mean such historic stuff is central to the fandom. It shouldn't be used for such reasons, and none of that is why I think it is relevant. The historical context just provides another detail or two in discussion of the fandom's origins when examining in more depth. Unless someone is actually misusing it (and I think flowery or loose language should count), I don't think a knee-jerk rejection is appropriate.

I get a vague sense of importance here being viewed as black and white, when I only meant relative importance within a rather narrow context.

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A short, one sentence summary of why the Titanic sunk would just mention the iceberg.

Why do you need more than one sentence?

More details do not make something more truthful; instead, they can easily distract from the core facts. I bring up the Titanic specifically because a. the "facts of construction" are added on because of a sense of discrepancy between the actual events and their "symbolic" importance, and b. the "facts of construction" have no actual bearing on the sinking of the Titanic. Basically, shoddy workmanship aside, it could have very easily made multiple trips across the Atlantic if it had not hit that iceberg; also, if all the workmanship on the ship had been done perfectly, it would have sunk regardless when it rammed an iceberg.

This is why I object to bringing up Egyptian deities, Lascaux cave paintings, Greek myths or what-have-you in the context of furry; firstly, it is an attempt to make furry seem "more important" by appealing to some idea that "it's always been here;" and secondly, it has no bearing on a discussion of furry. In fact, it distracts from actual antecedents; go get a copy of Beatrix Potter's stories and look at the illustrations, then look at a cave painting. Which looks furrier, honestly? And yet, I am constantly hearing about the friggin' cave paintings, but never Potter's works.

And the reason for this is simple; the Lascaux paintings are historically and artistically important. Beatrix Potter writes children's stories. Which one would you rather claim as an antecedent? Lascaux, definitely. But it is a lie.

Of course, the reason furries tell themselves this lie is simple; we're on the bottom of the food chain. There are very few subcultures that have taken as much trash as furry from fellow subcultures. Something Awful, "yiff in hell," the "furry YouTube war," all of it. We really have been the whipping boy of the Internet geek. We have had to defend ourselves, and for that reason we appeal to ideas of the "ancient."

Which is also ironic, because our very newness, is in my opinion, one of the darn coolest things about us.

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Maybe I spend too much time around engineers, but the interest I've seen in the Titanic's construction had nothing to do with symbolism. You seem to be exaggerating the importance of the things you complain of having exaggerated importance. Either you are way over thinking things, or don't understand what a "detail" is.

If you are going to presume there is only one reason to say or talk about something, then there isn't much point in showing and explaining to you other reasons.

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Ah, here's our iceberg; of course the engineers are interested in the Titanic as a boat. Our problem is, most people aren't engineers; they are interested in the Titanic as a story. The construction of the Titanic has a bearing on the boat, but it has little or no bearing on the story of the Titanic. But let's drop the Titanic discussion, because it's a metaphor.

I did something I often do; I tried to explain why something is the way it is without actually convincing you that it is this way. In this case, it's the opposite of my Titanic metaphor; animal myths have become a part of the "story" of furry, but there is very little evidence that they played any part whatsoever in the nuts-and-bolts "construction" of furry. Furries like to tell themselves that they are part of a grand tradition; it is my belief that this grand tradition is a figment of their imaginations.

You yourself have not put forward any evidence to suggest that mythology actually has any part in furry; at best you've said they have similar appeals, which I also believe to be a false statement. Mythological characters are based on symbolism, and playing set roles; they teach and instruct. Basically, this is warmed-over Joseph Campbell; the titular "hero with a thousand faces." Animal heroes are not chosen arbitrarily; they are chosen masks that teach specific lessons.

Now, take Disney's "Robin Hood." At first glance, this would actually be a perfectly clear case of an old hero dawning a new face. And, admittedly, the fox archetype and the Robin Hood archetype do overlap. But the fact remains, the decision to use animal characters in that retelling of an old story was completely and utterly arbitrary; and that is why it is important. The choice to make Robin Hood a fox had absolutely no effect on the story, characterization or anything else other than the character design.

That is the difference; mythological characters animal appearance appealed to the reader's sense of symbolism, i.e. the animal chosen reflected the character's role in the story. Furry, on the other hand, chooses animals based on aesthetic; in a nutshell, what makes the character look cuter/prettier/cooler.

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You yourself have not put forward any evidence to suggest that mythology actually has any part in furry

Maybe that is because I've said multiple times the historic anthropomophism is not a central part of the furry fandom or part of the development of the fandom. I've only been suggesting it can be relevant to understanding the development, which doesn't mean it has to be part of the fandom to be relevant.

And that the mythology is symbolism derived doesn't really change that, as what was relevant is the commonness of such symbols and how engrained such ideas can be in culture and with people in general. And I've actually seen quite a few furries make a big deal about the cultural symbolism of their choice in animals, and even choosing directly as a result of such symbolism and appeal to symbolism. That is only a subset of the fandom, so is not a general defining characteristic, but does mean the symbolism vs. aesthetics alone is not what differentiates furries from historic anthropomorphism.

What I think is the most important relevance of historic anthropomorphism is to establish that something must obviously differentiate the two, despite their many overlaps, because of the drastic difference in age and pervasiveness. By most important, I mean to furries, it is probably more important and useful in something directed to non-furries to help establish what anthropomorphism is, even if, getting back to my original point, many people are loose with language, and frequently use furry to mean anthropomophic in addition to, or instead of, furry to mean a member of fandom.

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Well, I like this point.

What I think is the most important relevance of historic anthropomorphism is to establish that something must obviously differentiate the two

In fact, our viewpoints are compatible. I think the major sticking point is that a majority of the furry fandom who resort to siting historic anthropomorphism aren't taking this view; they view anthropomorphism in ancient cultures as inseparable from furry. This is what I object to, and am railing against.

Another problem is that I am more interested in furry as genre than fandom; I'm less interested in why furries are furry and why furry is furry, if you can dig it. The question of animal symbolism becomes more important in the fandom than the genre; a furry may choose a wolf "fursona" (do we still use that word?) because of the power symbolism, but I see no evidence that Eric W. Schartz chose Thomas Woolfe of Sabrina Online's species for any particular reason (though that's not really a good example, since I don't believe that character was originally Schwartz's creation).

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Seriously dude, posting two lines and instead of actually posting any information on it you just link it to a article someone wrote, does not constitute a news article.
At least my article I spent more than one minute writing out.

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Interesting articles can be posted here as links. Sometimes they might be better posted as Newsbytes, but that service was down at the time due to our recent server move, and so I told Kakurady to post it as a story instead.

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Ah okay then.

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I always thought when a Daddy furry and a Mommy furry got together...

Well you can guess the rest...

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You know... I think there might be something to that, my mother had alot of glass bunnies around the house and a cookie jar that said "You're no Bunny til some Bunny loves you"

I think she liked bunnies... But then again she likes animals in general and she seems to go from one to the other. Dogs, birds.

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