Fandom grows in Southeast Asia – could it bring culture clash with Islam and authoritarianism?
by Patch O'Furr
By Patch O’Furr and Fred Patten, furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Remember the amazing story about Syrian refugee kids at VancouFur? They were freshly arrived in Canada from a conservative arabic country, and housed in the same hotel with the furries. At first there were warnings and high caution about the situation. Then the kids went wild about how cool it was. Remember that happened when you read the culture clash topic below!
Fred Patten wanted to learn about furry writing in Southeast Asia. (It’s a natural interest – he isn’t just a “founder” of furry fandom, he also helped bring anime to North America in the 1970’s). So Fred spoke with an academic in Malaysia who said this about furry novels:
“In Malaysia, portraying animal being human-like and intelligent is something rare and was not encouraged. This is because it contradicts with the Islamic teaching (Islam being the national religion of Malaysia). So, I am sorry to say I could not recommend any titles for you. Would be similar case for Indonesia too. But currently, there is a rise of independent novel publishers that doesn’t confine to the typical novel styles in Malaysia. They are labeled as rebels and those who tend to ‘speak their mind’ without any censorship.”
Anthropomorphism is very much a Western concept passed on to this part of the world. When I was growing up, the only exposure to anthropomorphic characters was through children’s storybooks or through cartoons on the television. Even the first few books that I did get (Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern) was at a local Borders store or through Amazon. Here, in Singapore, where English is the language of instruction, most of our material originates from the West.
New furry conventions are sprouting up in Southeast Asia. This includes south China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand:
- The Philippine Anthro Festival in Manila, first held in May 2014.
- The China National Furry Party in Guangzhou (Canton) (July 2015).
- Infurnity in Taipei (October 2015).
- FurryLah in Singapore (November 2015).
- Furs Upon Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur (December 2015).
- The Thai Tails Convention in Bangkok (January 2016).
- Shanghai Furry Summer Festival in Shanghai, China (July 23, 2016).
One Southeast Asian country is conspicuously missing: Burma/Myanmar. Of course, there have been furry conventions in Japan for the last decade.
The Southeast Asian furry community has been growing since AnthroAsia went online in 2004. There have been higher-profile furmeets in Bangkok since 2012, and these conventions have had no trouble getting meeting space. At least one furry author, MikasiWolf in Singapore, has risen since 2013, although his short stories have all been published in English outside Southeast Asia so far.
Disney’s Zootopia has been distributed throughout Southeast Asia including in Cambodia and Vietnam, although this may have been only in the largest and most cosmopolitan cities. In general, things are looking encouraging for the furry community there, and furry fandom has been accepted without notice.
Could such Western influences bring backlash? Things haven’t always been positive. Some terrorism in Southeast Asia has been blamed on reactionary Islamic groups, such as the bombing of Western tourists in Bali in 2002.
Disney’s Zootopia was released in Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Does this mean that attitudes have changed in some Islamic countries? Or that it is an example of the power of Disney? Or has distribution there been only in the most cosmopolitan cities?
Things taken for granted elsewhere in the West aren’t free to see everywhere; consider how ubiquitous Santa Claus is. But the government of Uzbekistan ordered Santa Claus and Russia’s similar Grandfather Frost taken off TV because they’re non-Uzbeki… but it’s more probably because they’re non-Islamic.
Remember when the Iron Curtain dominated half the world up to the 1980’s? It was a huge deal when rock and roll, jeans and McDonald’s came to Russia. Such things can be unexpectedly subversive.
It’s universal to love anthro animals. Art and cartoons speak in ways that words can’t. Maybe kids will have that as part of loosening domination in their countries. There already are pockets of furs in places like Iran.
Furry is an international conspiracy built from grassroots. It could take a little part in a bigger clash. So far, all I have are questions and curiosity. Especially if this ever starts to involve “the topic we love to hate” – the duality of Disney vs. Dirty in the fandom. As much as it causes concern, it’s also a source of independence and liberation. Something that many parts of the world could use in whatever form it takes.
See the movie Argo for a fantastic liberation story set in Iran. It’s about a spy operation to free hostages under cover of making a sci-fi B movie – a bit fandom-adjacent perhaps.