“What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets. But enough talk… Have at you!”
-Dracula, 1997 (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, by Konami)
When we use the word “meme” in today’s usage, we usually think of silly images with captions that we can swap around in order to make them fit a certain situation better. The origins of the word “meme” are kind of similar, but instead of only being about funny internet media, a “meme” could be any idea that was shared around a lot. A crude little rhyming song about what a Scotsman wears under his kilt, shared only by word of mouth in pubs and at playgrounds, could have been considered a meme, or a memetic idea. Instructions on how to make bronze could be considered a memetic idea, and so could any rumors about where to procure the materials for it. A meme, or memetic idea, in the traditional sense, is any idea that replicates itself across a culture. With all of that said: (read as dramatically as possible,) What is a furry? A miserable little pile of secrets? Perhaps. But on some level, the memetic idea of furriness has existed for a very, very long time. We see traces of human-animal hybrid creatures for essentially as long as we have had human societies and recorded history. The easiest popular examples to point to are Egyptian gods, such as Ra and Anubis. But there is no shortage of animal-human creatures in folk lores across history and across the globe.
The point being, even though “the furry fandom” may very well have a specific thing that comes to mind when we say it right now in February of 2023 AD, the idea of an anthropomorphic animal is by no stretch of the imagination a “recent” memetic idea. And it is therefore extremely funny and cringe when 15 year olds on twitter try to act like furry “belongs” to them. They weren’t even sperm yet when “The Episode” of CSI came out and rocked the boat of the public perception of furries.
For those who don’t know: in 2003, the television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation aired an episode where the investigators visit a furry convention. The depictions of what fursuiting means to furries was campy to say the least, and in short, it made furries look bad. This was notable because any depiction at all of the furry fandom in something as mainstream as CSI had never happened before. Everyday people had never heard of this “furry” thing a single time in their lives, until right then, seeing it on CSI on a major network, and presumably taking CSI’s word for whatever was said about it. Why should they have a reason to doubt it? That depiction was their very first exposure to what furries were, it was a blank slate, and if these people are walking around in goofy animal costumes that you’ve never seen before, you could be forgiven for believing pretty much anything at all that was said about them.
This was a very unfortunate footpaw to start off on. Furries, who by and large had just been doing their own thing in their own spaces, now felt a need to be on the defensive against the mainstream in a way that we hadn’t yet had to deal with before as a culture. We found ourselves having to insist that we were being misrepresented and that the actual culture was a lot better than what had been shown. Previously we had been able to keep to ourselves, live and let live. But suddenly, the mainstream was watching, or at least that was how it felt. The ramifications have defined aspects of furry culture to this day.
Now let’s ask ourselves again: What is a furry? Like, physically, if you were to describe a furry character, what does a furry character look like? It more than likely has animal features, that’s for sure. Maybe a canine muzzle and a cute bleppy tongue. Maybe some cat ears and handpaws. Chest floof, possibly digitigrade legs, maybe some antlers or horns or tusks. A tail. There are fictional sona types, your sergals and your protogens, though those still have fur and the animal leggies. There are scalies and kobolds and dragons, but, insert lizard features here and it’s just as animal.
One thing you are certainly not going to arrive at is any reasonable definition of furry characters that describes them as fully human. Because the point, is that they’re nonhuman. And by and large, the artists who were first drawing furries didn’t summon up these animal features out of nowhere. They weren’t struck by lightning, touched by an angel, or injected with top secret furry inventing juice, in order to come up with what a wolf face looks like. They looked at wolves. So it goes with the face, so it went with the coats, the paws, the legs, and yes, the fluffy balls, the hair-crested sheaths, and the shiny red dog dicks therein. If you’ve never been alive in a world where furry wasn’t already in the mainstream, maybe it’s easy to believe that furry art is completely separate from real life animals, and is instead just a selection of completely made up creatures passed down from artist to artist that happen to resemble dogs in some ways. And yes, in some important ways, furry and real life animals are separate for sure, but again, it is the defining trait of furry characters that they are nonhuman.
This is all to say, ultimately, that it’s very weird to see some furries who seem to have a deep-seated contempt for animal features in furry art. Furries policing other furries for liking red rockets, or even for liking paws or maws a bit much. I wonder what that furry even likes about furries that isn’t ultimately just as much an interest in nonhuman traits. I want to believe that in a lot of cases, it comes from having a very, very, very incomplete understanding of how furry got to where it is today. And that’s not a criticism, it’s a natural function of youth, which is why that’s my hope that that’s what it is. That they don’t understand how a defensiveness at being thrust into the mainstream hardened into a defensiveness at defending our place as mainstream. That they don’t understand how the founders of their fandom drew furry art because they were zoosexuals fawning over dogs from their ears to their junk. That they don’t understand how pervasive the idea of human-animal hybrids has always been, and that maybe there are millennia, millennia, of cultures and ideas that existed before them, and maybe they with their 2 years of being on furry twitter actually don’t know it all in the way that they seem to believe they do.
The furry who hates furry things is a very strange thing to see. Again, I want to believe that it’s a product of immaturity, and that as people get on in years and come to have a fuller picture of the world, they’ll maybe realize that there are more important things than policing people’s interests in yiff. Because if you find yourself browsing the internet and discover comments from furries giving a thumbs up to a drawing of dog balls, and the best thing you have to do with your time is to jump in to berate them, then I really am sorry, and I want better for you. We’ll see what happens with time.
Article written by Alissa Dogchurch (February 2023)
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