“Hugs are the handshake of furries” – Artists explore cultural meaning of touch.

by Patch O'Furr

NBC just posted a six minute video from Anthrocon, where the reporter notes: “hugs are the handshake of furries.”

Movie director Frauke Finsterwald has thoughts about the cultural meaning of touch, and how it brings furries together. She directed the German movie FINSTERWORLD that has fursuiting in it, and is nominated for an Oscar. Here’s a translation sent by @MiekoHeide:

Frauke Finsterwald:
As we looked at Germans, how we felt after spending time in other countries, we saw that this is a culture of non-touching/non-contact. Then there came the Furry story, and with the furries it is about contact.

It’s a phenomenon and the whole furry movement is really big in Germany. There are two countries where it’s so big, in America and in Germany. But it’s not well known. There are thousands meeting at events, dancing with each other, snuggling, hugging.

Semiotics of fur

“Furry” has a tactile quality. Fur stands for touch – more than sound, smell or sight. Touch is presented as a basic element of the anthropomophic concept. I think it gathers fans around a feeling of experienced sense (the extreme of active imagination). Fursuiting is the way to express it, with the most personal experience between audience and performer. I’ve heard an outsider remark that many furries represent as “toys”. With semiotic meaning, costume and body language spells, “hug me!”

Sensitive images

A “Fursuit performance” panel at Anthrocon discussed posing for photos. They recommended not to kneel directly behind children, because the angle could let haters make up false accusations.

Furries worry about their image a lot (more than non-furries even know they exist). They complain that they can’t wear a costume in public without being bashed that way. It’s sad if photos create that worry.

I think the sensitivity comes from a culture where touch is discouraged. It leads to oversensitivity: sometimes stereotype should be challenged, but I don’t think it deserves real estate in your own head. It’s better to worry less about what other people think of your life, and just live it (even if it’s fictional.) It makes hugging a statement. Some strangers will not hug furries – but some find that it’s something they really wanted and couldn’t ask for.

Fear of strangers

People’s personal space defines meanings, like “negative space” outlines shape in a picture. Emptiness between people defines fear of strangers.

Photographer Richard Renaldi intentionally challenges these personal boundaries. Photographer Asks Strangers to Touch:

We think these great photographs have something positive to say about human connection . . . about a diverse society in which people have been taught not to touch each other but in which we can and do transcend the boundaries set around us,” said Chris Boot, the director of Aperture, a nonprofit foundation that wanted to publish a book of Touching Strangers.

Fursuit performance has similar art. Suit-making boosts it with designed personality (especially when it anticipates how to perform.) It sparks humor, awe, and appeal, especially with a “wow” reaction from someone who has never seen a fursuiter. I find it especially strong with street fursuiting. Not all fursuiters give hugs, and not everyone wants them. But I think many would agree that’s why they do it, or how they got to be furry fans. How often does regular life let people explore that?

The baggage regular life insists on

The Animal Project is an independent movie from director Ingrid Veninger. Here’s some excerpts from the press kit:

Leo (Aaron Poole) is a mid – 30s widower, single parent, and struggling acting teacher. His relationship with his teenage son, Sam, (Jacob Switzer) is rocky, and he’s dissatisfied with his everyday life. So, after he has an unusual and inspiring dream, he decides to shake things up by having the group of actors he teaches do something called “The Animal Project” — in order to obliterate their comfort zones, they will all don furry mascot suits and become ‘animals’ in the real world.

The space they practice in, that they continuously do repetitions in, has become too safe, and the actors have become too comfortable in their roles within the group. So Leo proposes they undo all that – that they obliterate it all – by donning furry mascot suits and becoming ‘animals’ out in the real world. This might disarm them and force them to connect to something more primal, as they face the unpredictable reactions of the public. It could be an experience that would free them to pursue new avenues of creativity.

Leo uses the opportunity afforded by anonymity to find Sam and give him a hug, free from the baggage regular life insists on.