Editorial: Furry - Our deliverance or our destruction?
When perusing written news articles about furries written outside the fandom you’ll usually run into the typical faire. Some articles will talk about furries and try and introduce their unknowing audience to what the fandom is. Others will talk about the local convention in town and why the denizens will be seeing all these costumes about. Heck, some will not even be about the fandom at all and will just be using the term to talk about pets or the band Super Furry Animals.
However, 2017 has started off on a very interesting foot as two articles showed up on the feed which don’t take the tired and treaded routes. Both looked at pieces of the fandom and their relationship to the recently inaugurated president, Donald Trump and what he stands for in society in general.
One article from Slate covered a Kyell Gold book and discussed how the virtues with in could counter Trump. The other, from Motherboard, describes another piece of fandom and their alt-right tendencies and pondering if crass anonymity can lead to crass actors acquiring power.
So let’s go over these two articles and what they have to say about furry fandom.
Slate - Furry Literature; Resistance to the Trump Era
Matt Baume, a slate writer who typically covers LGBTQ issues for Slate, talked about Kyell Gold’s book The Time He Desires. In his article, the author interviews Kyell about his inspiration to write the novel in a country where fear of Muslims continues to grow in the US landscape with the election of Donald Trump, who during his campaign called for a ban for Muslim immigration.
In the end the article’s main point is that through society’s marginalization of people within the gay, furry fandom, and Muslims communities it makes those within those communities more able to empathize with each other and their treatment. All of them have stints where they are used to negative publicity generated by poorly researched press articles, or even worse flat out yellow journalism (what “fake news” was called before it was termed “fake news”).
This could be seen in contrast with Trump, who some would argue was treated so well by the press when he was starting off as the son of a business tycoon and was merely handed positive publicity on prestige at the start. However during his run up to president he was finally introduced to a more pointed and critical press. This transition in relationship could very well be the reason why at a press conference he called CNN “fake news”. When you grow up your life believing the press’s job is only to say nice things about you, them suddenly turning more critical could seem like a dereliction of duty to the ones spoiled by celebrity exposure. But why someone so adamant about fighting for the truth in news would be friends with the editor of the National Enquirer, and not criticize them when they use their branch of the tabloid to attack political opponents, is another story entirely.
The goal of Kyell and other furry authors like him is to try and humanize those that we typically dismiss offhand as being less than human. That in spite of the blurring of facts and reality a President like Trump brings to the table, we never allow ourselves to entirely believe that others are lesser because they don’t follow the precise habits or norms of those about them. On the other side of the coin, you could see Orwell's book Animal Farm, which discusses inhumane forms of governance using animal allegory in order to make the horrors more approachable for a wider audience.
Using animals can be a powerful way to do this as humans do hold a fondness for the creatures we share this planet with. For instance, the choice of a snow leopard as the main Muslim protagonist was probably no coincidence in Kyell’s latest story. In Middle Eastern and African nations, larger cats are given a great deal of reverence. The snow leopard is the national predator of the nation of Pakistan, a country whose national religion of Islam is practiced by over 90% of the country.
Motherboard - Alt-Right and the Furred Reich
In heavy contrast to the Baume’s article, Roisin Kiberd writes an article for Mashable looking at another side of the fandom which wouldn’t see Trump as a force in which to oppose, but instead one to be welcomed. In Pony Nationalism and the Furred Reich: inside the Alt-Furry’s Online Zoo, the authors speaks with some individuals who call themselves furry or brony but also promote the ideas of the “alt-right”. A group that prides itself on nationalism and a more self-promotional politic that has been cautioned as a new colloquialism for Nazism.
Many in the alt-right consider Donald Trump a viable candidate that they proudly support to break the formality and niceties of international symbiotic polities and instead favor the self and one’s own nation as the priority. Mostly because they find the so called “symbiosis-ness” of the trade deals with other nations as more viral in nature instead. Many of Trump’s arguments that struck home with his audience were those on trade deals that cost the United States jobs.
The article does clearly come from the perspective of someone who finds this brand of angered nationalism disturbing. This comes as no surprise from those who write for the media, because open media usually becomes a quick target of the fervor of such movements. When national interests come first, sometimes the search for truth and freedom of speech take a back seat if either are seen as a harm to those national interests.
The piece mostly focuses on the small niche online group of the alt-right furries. While he does provide some history, as an outsider he clearly missed some marks when going into the history of the right-wing of the fandom. Burned Furs would be a big group to note, which was left unaddressed. Another missed observation is how anthropomorphic animals are utilized by others outside the fandom for promotion of politics that are pro-nationalist. An infamous example being the propaganda cartoon series from North Korea “Squirrel and Hedgehog”. This cartoon follows the adventures of a squirrel named Geumsaegi as he engages in a war against different animals, each representing a country North Korea considers and enemy. The protagonist wears a garb closely resembling that of the country’s military.
Overall the article was a bit less polished than the Slate one, but it does cover a sensational minority of the fandom that more liberal individuals in the group don’t wish to believe exist.
The impacts of these groups have had within the fandom are pretty minor. One example was a convention incident in Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2016. A group of furries with ties to Neo-Nazi symbolism, calling themselves the Furry Raiders, bought out an entire room block and offered it for free to people. Instantly this was met with criticism from normal attendees, and even staff, that they shouldn't be able to hold onto empty rooms for the sake of bribing people to accept charity from organizations they may politically disagree with. Despite the fears the unused rooms were returned to the convention for redistribution to paying attendees once they were unable to hand out any more.
At the end of the day, the fandom revolves around the interest of anthropomorphized animals. The usage of such in story telling is merely a tool. Like most tools, the resulting positive or negative impacts comes purely from their usage. We can use animal characters to ask the difficult questions that we as individuals may be too afraid to phrase in our human guise. However, we can also use those characters to enforce our worst ingrained natures.
Furries will neither be the salvation of man, nor its destruction. Those two roles would more likely come from the results of our collective successes or failings as a species. Furry as a genre is an apolitical concept, despite the political feelings of those whom call themselves furry.
The fascination by the press of those within our fandom beyond the simple questions of what defines a furry, however, is certainly an interesting evolution of news coverage around the fandom. As the inquiry of “what is furry?” is finally resolved, the deeper questions on how our presence will impact the future of humankind may continue to rise to the surface. The types of articles like the ones from Motherboard and Slate are a mere glimpse of what’s to come as humans delve into the many segments of this expanding fandom. They will begin to ask more about what the impact of our little escapades may be not only inside the confines of our conventions and online art boards, but how we will influence the world around us in general. It seems in that, the furry fandom has matured.