Stealth vs blatant and the "Mouse Problem"; furry coverage in fictional media
As repeated media victims we furs are always on the lookout for furry references— good, bad or indifferent— on TV and elsewhere. There are two distinct styles in which our fandom is covered: bluntly by name, and more subtly. It’s easy to identify the former, but sometimes it’s more fun when they don’t use the 'F-word' to describe the group in which they are referencing in their content. In those instances, it seems more a stealthy shout-out for our animal-ears only, designed to fly over the head of anyone who doesn’t get it.
Today I wish to go over some of those moments in furry media that seem to hold general fandom idioms and how fun 'situational nuance' can be.
For instance, take the two-part season four We Bare Bears Halloween episode. In the first part, the main character, Panda buys three “Oso Adorable” small plush bears online, all perfect reproductions of themselves. “Oso” while sounding like "oh so" in English, also means “bear” in Spanish, making it a cutely clever pun. Once each bear puts a bit of his fur inside his Oso, the plushies becomes “beary special” – in that they suddenly know more about their living counterparts than the bears would prefer.
Especially “Little Panda” who announces “I like dressing up as a cat”— and then adds in a quiet whisper, “when no one is looking.”
Hmm, dressing up as an animal and hoping no one knows? Sounds like something a not-quite-ready-to-come-out-of-the-furry-closet fur would do.
The second part focuses on their human friend Chloe, a child prodigy who gets no respect from her college classmates. When Griz accidentally bites her she becomes a werebear, an anthro-ursine version of herself. Her transformation, which she sees in a mirror is depicted in a series of shots lasting several seconds, for those who are major transformation fans like myself, this is quite a gratifying scene.
As a humorous aside, I was just so happened to walk into my Furpocalypse hotel room the exact moment Cartoon Network was telecasting the scene. It took me a while to realize it was lucky timing on my part and not something my roommate had arranged for my arrival.
When Chloe's college classmates discover her furriness, rather than being shunned she instantly becomes the most popular kid in the crowd— the ultimate popufur! “Whoa, check out her ears…you have no idea how awesome you are right now Chloe!” they would cheer. While I never saw the original Teen Wolf movie, from my understanding the same thing happened to Michael J. Fox's character in that film.
The next thing you know she’s a wild and crazy party animal at the local hang-out. They even begin selling Chloe T-shirts and mugs. “Now everybody loves me and wants to party with me!” she noted. The bears arrive to check on their friend and Griz explains to them he accidentally bit her, things get even more interesting. One of her classmates runs up to Griz, saying “oh master bear? can you bite me too?” and a second adding “yeah, I want to be cool like Chloe!”. Most notably, the first guy is especially eager to go were-bear, offering his neck up to Griz: “seriously dude, like bite me right here!”
Chloe eventually goes full bear cub, no longer a child prodigy or capable of human speech. (Un)fortunately the episode was non-canon; Chloe was back to her normal human self in time for the next cartoon.
Of rodent infestation skits
Now for media mentions that make sure you know are all-capped, italicized and boldfaced FURRY!, exclamation point included. They can be of the cheap shot or “hey, this is kinda cool” variety, more of which are the latter these days, thank the furry gods. I put them in what I call the “Mouse Problem” category, in honor of the classic Monty Python sketch. If you haven’t seen this amazingly prophetic 1969 bit of Brit humor, you should check it out.
In the sketch the Pythons imagine a secret underground society of "men who want to be mice". The sketch was a satire of peoples’ curiosity about homosexuality, which had recently been decriminalized in England in 1967. After all, what could be more absurd than a bunch of people who enjoy dressing up as animals?
Don’t answer that.
The highlight of the sketch was footage from a supposedly surreptitiously filmed “mouse party” featuring a handful of folks in baggy mouse suits. The footage ends with a man dressed as a “farmer’s wife” cutting off one “mouse”’s tail with a carving knife, a la the old nursery rhyme; a little castration anxiety there, perhaps?
My point is all the would-be rodents are suited up. There’s no one there just wearing a tail or mouse ears or a Mickey Mouse T-shirt like you’d see at an actual modern-day furry gathering. This was 1969 after all, actual furry gatherings were still decades in the future.
Modern media - An over-focus from sex to suits
That was then, this is now. Despite strides, by and large the media still believe that furry fandom and fursuiting are one in the same, and that it’s mandatory to wear them when we get together. In a recent article about Furry Down Under (FurDU), it took a writer in the Australian edition of Marie Claire magazine eleven paragraphs to note with surprise less than half the attendees were suited.
My partner Furio recently turned me onto an episode of Lucifer, a supernatural/police procedural TV series I’d never heard of. Discovering a fursuit belonging to a murder victim the detective immediately tells an onlooker, “furries get a bad rap but they’re almost never sexual—most of the time, totally wholesome, if that’s what you were thinking”— which the onlooker wasn’t thinking. I’m glad she stuck up for us, but did she have to bring up, unprompted, our negative stereotype in order to deny it? I suppose the writer thought she was looking out for us, but it felt a little unnatural, and not the supernatural kind.
The detective dons the suit to attend a furry convention. Apart from a few fleeting glimpses of non-suiters way in the background, the focus is 98% on fursuiters. Even the notorious “Fur and Loathing” CSI episode -covered by Aberguine's Furries and the Media here - had quite a few non-suiters at their imaginary convention. In Lucifer, a suiter explains “Wesley”, previously presumed to be an actual person, is her “fur sona”. That's not a typo, it was two separate words if you have the closed-captions turned on. She also had described it as her “OC" (“Original Character,” in case you’re unfamiliar with that term). The episode’s writer, if not a fur herself, is definitely fur-friendly and certainly did her homework.
And then there’s Pottersville, a 2017 Christmas-themed movie so low-profile it snuck into theaters and onto video without anyone noticing.
A small-town grocer comes home early to discover his wife and Jack, the local sheriff, in rabbit and wolf fursuits. This leaves the husband utterly confusticated and insisting on believing yes, it absolutely is sexual. The wolf takes off his head, revealing himself to be Ron Perlman, an actor who clocked more than a few hours in animal drag as Vincent the anthro lion-man in the 1980’s Beauty and the Beast TV series. “I’m kind of a big deal in this town, and I don’t think it would be good if people knew I was a furry.”
Shame on you, Jack! Be loud, be proud, be furry!
A nighttime forest gathering of fursuited revelers takes place. Personally, I’d never fursuit in a dark forest myself, don’t forget what happened to that CSI raccoon! You’d think there’d be at least one non-suiter there at this gathering since the film is set in a small, economically depressed town and we all know how expensive fursuits can be.
Exposed as a furry at the forest gathering, Jack defiantly confesses his furriness, “I’m a furry, and I’m damn proud of it!” he proclaimed.
Finally! way to go, Jack!
However this praise sort of falls apart as he goes onto explain, quite incorrectly, “furries are people who just happen to like dressing up in furry clothes and rub up against each other.” Wrong, Jack! We’re people who like to wear fursuits or tails or furry t-shirt—and hug each other!
Guess while some things about the media may change, some stubbornly stick around.
Joe Strike is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America’s Most Misunderstood Subculture.(furrynation.com) He fursuits as “Komos,” an anthropomorphic Komodo dragon.