Opinion: Furries, Freud, art, and "sexual correctness"
Rumpus: Are cartoons sexy? Are animals sexy? Or are both of those statements irrelevant? Is it more the re-imaging idea?
Kilcodo: It depends on the person, but I think if you look at the way that we use language and the way we think about what is and isn’t sexy, we’ve constantly used anthropomorphic language. We call a sexy woman a fox. We call an older sexy woman a cougar. We call men bear, wolf. I’ve heard otter being used in the gay community. And I think that’s because as sexual beings we can see eroticism in many different organic forms, and I think because animals are beautiful, people like to meld the two forms together, so you have a human body and a majestic head of an animal, and people find that beautiful and even erotic.
Kilcodo's thoughtful answer brings to mind the Freudian term "Polymorphous perversity".
Polymorphous perversity is a psychoanalytic term for human ability to gain sexual gratification outside socially normative sexual behaviors. Sigmund Freud used this term to describe the normal sexual disposition of humans from infancy to about age five.
Freud theorized that humans are born with unfocused sexual libidinal drives, deriving sexual pleasure from any part of the body. The objects and modes of sexual satisfaction are multifarious, directed at every object that might provide pleasure… For Freud, "perversion" is a non-judgmental term.
Freud's theories are often dismissed as unscientific and "of their time", but still respected for helping to found psychoanalysis. This one suggests playfully limitless sexuality that's buried in the subconscious after childhood for many people, but not all (such as people who get hot for Bugs Bunny or the feel of fake fur). On a related note, studies of childhood and the subconscious show a high frequency of animals in kid's dreams, as discussed in The Dream Encyclopedia: Animal Dreams. Jungian analyst Anne Baring takes on the topic in her seminar, Animals in Dreams.
These sources suggest that the often-mocked sexual side of furry fandom is an expression of human behavior that's worth intellectual consideration (yeah, that's the excuse.) Art criticism has plenty of examples of artists who have explored it. Michaela Pavlatova is one such artist, a winner of numerous awards at international film festivals, whose animation of dreams and desires could be termed "Freudian".
Her film Tram was shortlisted for the 2012 Academy Award nominations. Tram featured in The Animation Show of Shows, mentioned in Fred's comment here. The show is a touring festival generally promoted to the animation industry, hosted by Ron Diamond of AWN.com, which he calls a "pre-Oscar" event since many selected films later earn the award. I saw it at a San Francisco showing (a reminder of Pavlatova's Czech / San Francisco connection, a fine background for art that crosses borders.) Later, I noticed a report about it in the member newsletter for ASIFA-SF (the international animator's association, SF chapter). President Karl Cohen called the film "an outrageous erotic fantasy from the Czech Republic", and says:
Tram by Michaela Pavlatova (Oscar nomination for Rici, Rici, Rici, 1991), illustrates several sexual fantasies that a woman streetcar operator has while doing her job. Ron Diamond later told me it was made as a pilot for a possible series so it is not as wild and crazy as her award winning Carnival of the Animals, 2006. While Carnival is an interspecies sexual free-for-all, Tram is much tamer, possibly making it acceptable for Michaela to get another Academy Award nomination.
In Carnival of the Animals, the "interspecies sexual free-for-all" is mainly in the last minute of this 9-minute film. It pales in comparison to a glimpse at e621 or FA, but the whole thing has a lot to recommend it.
An AWN.com review discusses its famous source music by Camille Saint-Saens, and says:
Carnival is up for creative recycling all the time, and was memorably animated in Disney’s Fantasia 2000 when animator Joe Grant gave a flamingo a yo-yo.
I’ll say I was most impressed by eleven rabbits in a circle-jerk having it off with each others’ ears.
In this article about Michaela Pavlatova, she discusses the film and the "narrow line between what is erotic and what is vulgar." Echoing Karl Cohen's comment, she states: "it won't be nominated for an Oscar because it is not sexually correct."
"Sexual correctness" seems to be one of the impulses that leads to mocking Furry fans (besides those who really provoke it). It was a subject in this recent Penny Arcade article calling for tolerance between furries and LARPers and the wider geek community, that recalls the Onion News headline: "Gaywads, Dorkwads Sign Historic Wad Accord."
While the mainstream may never embrace this interest, sometimes there's upsides to leaving things forbidden. Bunny-ear circle-jerks are more fun when you have to act like Batman and dress like Goofy to get in them.
On the other hand, moralists like to preach about a sick society where perversion is shamelessly advertised on billboards for all to see, bringing the collapse of western civilization in a sweaty, throbbing, deliciously sinful orgy of Sexual Anarchy. One of them is evangelical Christian leader Albert Mohler, who is anti-gay, anti-birth-control, anti-yoga, anti-hugging, anti-kittens, anti-sparkles, and vehemently denies owning a monogrammed ball-gag. He probably remains blissfully unaware that Furries even exist. (I'm sorry if this made you aware that he exists.) According to his screed against people who don't breed, The Age of Polymorphous Perversity:
Trying to understand something as powerful as sex, Freud turned to what he called the “infantile” stage of human development, and identified the leading characteristic of infantile sexuality as polymorphous perversity. Freud explained: “What makes an infant characteristically different from every other stage of human life is that the child is polymorphously perverse, is ready to demonstrate any kind of sexual behavior, with any kind of pleasure, without any kind of restraint.” He then explained how “civilization” emerges only after this innate, polymorphous perversity is restrained by psychological repression, social form, and custom. Such restraint, Freud felt, was inevitable and indeed necessary, for procreation is necessary for the continuation of the race, and therefore heterosexual coupling was absolutely essential for civilization itself.
Even if we finally reject Freud’s theory, it is crucial that we understand its influence. Freud is no doubt one of the ideological horsemen of the twentieth-century apocalypse, but even he was outdone by those who came after him.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Herbert Marcuse revisited Freud in his book Eros and Civilization, mixing his theories with those of Marx in order to develop a theory of sexuality as liberation. The whole problem, Marcuse thought, was the very restraint that Freud believed was inevitable and necessary, the repression that Freud saw leading to civilization itself. According to Marcuse, the only way to achieve liberation is to undo that repression, to reverse that restraint, and thus to unleash in society itself that infantile stage of pure sexuality– of polymorphous perversity.
It's so dramatic, you can hear the manly narrator spitting gravelly words in the most not-gay way possible, as bells toll the death of civilization at the lubed-up hands of perverts.
If "the continuation of the race" is in danger, it's quite an underwhelming fear for an overpopulated world. Maybe future generations will be corrupted by evil while moralists fruitlessly urge kids to like the bible, instead of pop culture that pushes them to eat socialist breakfast cereal soaked in LSD. But it's more likely that playful deviation does less harm than sour-faced sexual repression, and people like Albert Mohler are just jealous, inbred xenophobes who hate fun. I, for one, am happy to sell my soul for Marcusian sexual anarchy (or at least, to dress up like a furry animal and give free hugs in shameless Pro-Hugs demonstrations), and worship ideological horsemen of the apocalypse (AKA read more than one book). Some of these assholes should loosen up and get new hobbies. Everyone else should enjoy theirs, and talk about them on Flayrah.