Art can be Activism

The Marvel movies are omnipresent as a cultural touchstone, going far beyond a niche nerdy interest and asserting themselves solidly into the mainstream as something that your average person knows about. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones all have huge fan communities surrounding them, where people interested in the series can talk with one another, and have lengthy, in-depth, back and forth discussions about the details of the books or films–even if the two fans have never met one another and know nothing about each other besides their mutual interest in a series.

The word “art,” while we sometimes only think of paintings and drawings when we say it, can also apply to movies, books, songs, and all kinds of creative undertakings. The fandom surrounding the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while we may not always think of it this way, is quite arguably a fandom surrounding art.

“Art,” to humans, is important. It can be important as a way to develop and strengthen social bonds, from chatting with someone about what we thought of the latest episode of a TV show to maybe even taking the time to sit down and watch it together. It can also be weaponized as political propaganda to sour the public perception of undesirable ideas and glorify the perception of more preferred rhetoric. A community who produces art produces a contribution to the public mindshare. A community who is silent does not.

But these things don’t have to be as lofty as “mainstream,” or have as huge of budgets as Marvel or Star Wars, to be just as important to an individual. Locally produced art for a small community can still be very powerful.

As a personal example, I grew up without any gay friends. Zero. Really there was not a single person in any of my social spheres who was gay–or at least, nobody who was out at the time. So as someone who was experiencing a strong attraction to both sexes (‘both,’ not ‘all,’ was a product of my limited understanding at the time), I didn’t feel like I had anyone I knew who I could commiserate with. No one I could be like hey, so what’s that like for you. No one irl who I could feel validated by, hear about their experiences, get their thoughts and glean wisdom. That feeling of alone-ness was a miserable feeling. It was frightening to walk down the school halls thinking that I had such an unspeakable secret. Being gay and, yes, being zoo, were in an odd way on the same level of taboo-ness, because I could hardly imagine anyone actually speaking about either.

But eventually, while I still didn’t have any community in real life, I found something else that was very effecting as a substitute: stories. Just short stories or even serialized novels, written by other gay people apparently, and posted to the likes of AO3 and SoFurry. I already loved reading: any downtime in any class, a book from the library would be open on my desk. And now, instead of just being entertainment, these stories were fascinating insights into the lives–or, certainly more accurately, the fantasized lives–of other people who weren’t straight! They existed!

I’m sure the amount of these stories I read numbered in the hundreds. And besides the validation, part of the interest was that there was such a variety. I was, in a sense, a kid in a candy shop. I could read about dudes who have a crush on each other finally confessing their feelings and snuggling together, and get butterflies. I could also find out what was beyond my interests, seeing stories with particularly hard kinks and going yuck, I’m closing that that’s not what I like at all. And it helped foster lines of thought that may be non-obvious to someone who never has thought of these things before–for example, looking up stories of humans and dogs doing the deed together, I would notice that a lot of them treated a human getting with a dog as being very degrading to the human, and those stories really never resonated with me, but when I could find one where the human and the dog have fostered a relationship of legitimate love with one another and then have decided to consummate it, oh my gosh was that a) extremely relatable, b) extremely enjoyable to read about, and c) extremely validating to know that I wasn’t the only one who had ever experienced these things.

Maybe there’s been a short story or a book that’s had a profound effect on you too. Or, maybe literature isn’t as much your thing as it happened to be mine. But I bet some piece of art has gotten you at least a little bit. Has a song ever gotten you right in the feels? Maybe something about it stung because it was just a little too relatable at that time you heard it. Or maybe a song has gotten you pumped up! Maybe there’s one you like to hear when working out, gaming, driving.

Art effects us. It can be powerful. It can be a force for great good for a community that needs it, a voice calling out for those who didn’t think voices like theirs could speak.

Art can be… activism?

Art can definitely be activism.

Stickers! Imagine being a zoo who has never really found the community, and you’re just going about your days harboring this uncomfortable bad-feeling secret that you’re not sure you want to unpack and face, and then suddenly, there on the back of the door of the Speedway gas station bathroom stall, you see a big shiny sticker that reads “BEST-iality” or bluntly “Lick dog pussy!” Someone else out there gets it too. Someone else understands.

Podcasts! The zoo space has seen a number of podcasts pop up–I can count to four of them, I think, although I’ve only kept up with a couple. Hearing other zoos use their own voices to talk about zoo things is huge.

Fiction! Zoo writing is still out there. Some of the sites that I once read zoo writing on are probably no longer with us, as a lot of them already looked pretty dated and ill maintained back in the 2000s. You may now be better off searching it out under the feral tag on your furry website of choice. I don’t really know anymore. But zoos have been a part of the internet for as long as there has been an internet, and a lot of us haven’t gone anywhere. The literature is out there somewhere.

Drawings! Who doesn’t like to see a drawing of dog snuggles? It’s easy to say “zooey drawings” and think that that just means explicit sexy images–and those are cool!–but there can be, quote unquote, “tasteful” zooey art as well. Maybe a fox smugly holding a zoo pride flag in their mouth. Maybe a human lady and a greyhound lady sniffing each other. Maybe a cool drawing of a horse walking away from an explosion while wearing sunglasses. There might not be anything at all that’s zooey about the art itself per-se, but you openly mention that you, the artist who made it, are in actual fact a zoo; that simple openness all on its own fosters the idea that we can be people who exist.

If you’re a zoo artist already, that rules. If you’re an audience to zoo art, that rules too and I hope you find all kinds of the things you’re looking for. If you’re an artistic type and are on the fence about making zoo art, I’d recommend giving it a try: even if the transgressiveness of it never leaves your sketchbook, it can be validating just for yourself. And if you do end up sharing, then who knows who else it may catch at just the right time to be validating for them too.

Support zoo artists.

Article written by an anonymous author (January 2023)

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