Classism in the Furry Fandom: An Opinion by Nightf0x
by Patch O'Furr
Guest post by Nightf0x with a response by Patch.
Flying out to Pittsburgh this past June for Anthrocon was a fantastic experience. I got to spend time with my friends and see this convention for the first time. However there was something that felt a bit off to me.
It took a different experience at Anthro Weekend Utah to make me aware of what exactly I was feeling at Anthrocon. I had never noticed before, but there is a sense of classism in the furry community. (I didn’t experience any of this classism at Anthro Weekend Utah.)
A lot of people in this fandom are successful, and they should be proud of it! However, sometimes this financial success creates an aura of a “holier than thou” attitude that they may not be aware of. By spending copious amounts of money and keeping their social cliques to people in the same financial situation, it creates a feeling of the haves and have nots.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t strive to reach this kind of success. For the most part this fandom is full of people who are intelligent and apply themselves, and they should be happy that they are in their situation. All I’m asking is to just be aware that sometimes, all the extravagance and copious spending creates social rifts. It can be detrimental to a convention’s social experience. This fandom has definitely been through a lot of social change lately, and my hope is that the next change is to be aware that everybody is in a different socio-economic status, and to at least try to be inclusive in that regard. It’s great to see a fandom that is getting more and more inclusive. However I think as a community we could work better on inclusivity across socio-economic barriers.
I’m not saying you’re evil if you own a fursuit or have a lot of money. But I think everybody should be entitled to have a fun time without feeling the socio-economic barriers they may experience outside of the fandom. In the end, no matter your current socio-economic status, we are all fans of anthropomorphic animals and we all share this in common. Let’s go out there and have fun without class elitism!
A rather critical thread about the topic here:
(most) rich furries are classless as shit imo— black dale gribble (@CrocutaMane) December 14, 2017
A perspective by Patch – expensive fursuits help showcase the whole fandom’s creativity.
Dogpatch welcomes guest posts as part of the mission of the site, and thanks Nightf0x for contributing. Open access is one small way to be more inclusive. Sometimes a critical opinion can lead to dissecting a problem for positive qualities. So let me offer thoughts about how fursuiting the fandom is known for can represent “conspicuous consumption” and how that isn’t always bad, especially if it’s more about creativity on display than just hoarding the wealth.
Previous stories that look at the fandom’s most expensive fursuits:
- $11,575 fursuit sale brings comments from Furbuy and seller PhoenixWolf.
- Thoughts from the winner of the record-setting $11,575 fursuit auction.
- Responses to fursuit auction story confirm $17,500 top price.
A $17,500 sale sure makes an eye-catching headline. Those articles get longer lasting views than many on the site, and I think it shows that the issue matters to many furries. Spending that way isn’t just anyone’s luxury – but like a museum with a valuable collection, it can be more than just personal indulgence.
How? Look at how unique the art of fursuiting can be. Other fandoms and subcultures have art, music, cosplay, and even their own movies. Furries enjoy that stuff, but original character fursuiting is something you only see from furries. Elsewhere you see it called a mascot or Halloween costume, but it’s more tradition or social performance than personal expression. So you can call fursuiting the most visible display of “furriness”, and that includes the way members spend.
Think of what the “furry dollar” buys across the furry economy. Con-going furs spend a lot on travel – the same as any non-fan who takes vacations – but the ones with suits are extra invested. Dropping several grand on a suit involves putting in all the effort to use it. That makes a special market by furs, for furs, that uniquely brings together fans and skilled makers with event organizers who help them have a “stage”.
In other words, those fans could be a weathervane for how the fandom grows. Furries don’t make movies (yet), they throw cons, and fursuit group photos are the money shots or the crown jewels. The biggest cons showcase over $3 million in furriness (close to 2,000 suiters) at once. Nothing else approaches such a display.
Why mention it if only more privileged furs can take part? Because they can be considered Patrons of the Arts, and fursuits are for wearing and performing, not being shut away. It enriches an experience for everyone. They’re pricey, but accessibility is relative too. Fursuit maker skill is an incredible bargain by comparison to other hand-made fashion. Many makers do it for love at near minimum wage for the labor it takes (if you got hand-made jeans, they’d cost hundreds of dollars.) And if you can’t afford a suit, you can make one yourself.
DIY Power is part of the beauty of what Furries do. There’s class in it, but it’s different than say, collecting rare cars or vicariously watching highly-paid athletes (stuff the mainstream takes for granted as hobbies and fandom.) For other ways to increase inclusion, remember that it’s made of real people who meet in real life. You can reach out to those who want to do meets and cons and welcome them in. Those depend on volunteerism, so someone who can’t afford it can still get in as a volunteer to make an event for everyone. Cons always need more volunteers for operations or to put on panels and make their content better. Even if you want nothing to do with fursuiting, there’s another niche waiting for you. You don’t have to wait for a con, either. Want a guest writer spot here? Make it yours.
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I have to take issue with one point in your reply: IMHO furries already *do* make movies:
“Zootopia”s director Byron Howard mentions in every interview how much he was fascinated by Disney’s 1977 “Robin Hood.” There’s no shortage of furs who point to that movie as their gateway drug into Furry.
Byron was appx 5 when when it was released –
the *perfect* age to have one’s furry gene activated. Furries by and large have to stay underground in the Hollywood animation community which is probably why he’ll never admit to it.
And Lisa Hanawalt, “Bojack Horseman”‘s character designer has admitted in interviews she’s “technically” a furry; she’s been drawing anthro characters since high school. (Although she says she doesn’t find them sexy, which is why she’s only “technically” a furry.) She can get away with saying that because she was never part of the Hollywood animation community to begin with.
I second that one.
The whole hostility towards the big studios within the furry fandom feels frankly forced and stagnating in the age of social media and unfortunately a crucial part of the Gamergate/Sad Puppies playbook.
It’s therefore crucial as a fandom to get accustomed to mainstream exposure and that the deviant nature of it all successively vanishes.
By the powers of the free market, exposure will sort out the politically incorrect elements of the fandom. Furs of colour stood their ground during Black History Month this year and succeeded because of the exposure that it brought.
So don’t gate-keep out Disney staff for not coming out as furries, because our reputation might not be as clean-cut as we think we are.
So this classist idea of fursuits being this showcase of creativity in the fandom harkens back to the late ’80s, when Yuppies co-opted early ’80s gay culture and their designers and put a higher price tag on it to make it less accessible for the common man, which lead to the birth of the Crass Punk / Madchester scene.
An equivalent for the furry fandom would be the Hot Topic-furs who can only afford official merchandise and have dedicated Tumblr-accounts for their fursonas as the height of their creativity. We call them “Basic Furs”, but they really should be called “Based Furs”, and jaded grey-muzzles shouldn’t be hazing them without consequences.
I often make a distinction between “furry” and “capital F Furry.” You can find this done with stuff like “democrat” and “capital D Democrat”.
One is a fan of generic media and the other implies specific awareness and membership in an indie fandom.
This matters because this fandom stands alone in generating its own media that feeds its own growth without depending on mainstream stuff. Sure they like Disney too. Nothing wrong with that, I love pop culture and call it a chicken/egg relationship. But they don’t need it, and don’t get their fursonas designed by mainstream pros or for the most part model them after someone elses canon.
That DIY quality is real enough to get academic recognition… there’s not really a point in disputing the distinction, it’s helpful in distinguishing a whole genre of stuff that wouldn’t exist without it, for example an entire small industry of original-char fursuit making by fans for fans.
Howard and Hanawalt fit the small-f but not the capital-f category. I think I recall a story in your book about meeting Howard as a formal journalist and being embarrassed at how a question about furry fandom got a non-answer… that’s why it’s good to leave the small-f kind to it’s own devices sometimes (when it already dominates and doesn’t need the promotion) and emphasize the capital-F kind when it’s part of the equation.
A documentary maker I knew had a history project up for some awards. He worked for a cable network. He was pissy at having to compete with Canadian subsidized work, said it was unfair. Meanwhile the Canadian underdogs could compete against Hollywood domination and be proud of it, and you get to enjoy quirky stuff that isn’t the same bland product. I prefer it that way.
Please do e-mail the costuming department of the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art to see if it would be interested in accepting donations of fursuits.
But I know the Eaton Collection of S-F & Fantasy wants some fursuits for its collection of furry fandom materials, because Dr. Melissa Conway, the former curator, asked me before she retired to try to get some. I was also told by a couple of fursuit wearers that there is no such thing as an “old, no longer wanted” fursuit. Fursuits are worn until they fall apart. If a fursuit is no longer wanted, it is disassembled and its parts used in a new fursuit. Okay, but I wonder about the fursuits of some fans who have been killed in unexpected accidents, such as Lemonade Coyote. Did his parents keep them as a memorial to him? Give them to one of his fursuit-fan friends? Throw them out? Nobody seems to know.
Good if the fursuits or their components are reused; I am in favor of recycling. Even so, I can appreciate that the Eaton Collection would like to have at least one or two fursuits in its collection of furry-fandom materials, especially since, to the general public, fursuiting is the most publicized aspect of furry fandom. I also know that the UCR Library has kept my old furry convention badges, souvenir books, lapel buttons (I had almost a dozen different pawprint buttons), and T-shirts along with the books and fanzines that I had. It has complete runs of fanzines like FurVersion, Yarf!, and FurryPhile, and apas like North American Fur and Rowrbrazzle – so I can appreciate that its collection of furry materials is incomplete without at least a couple of fursuits.
If the Eaton Collection ever got more fursuits than it wanted, I imagine that it would communicate with other university libraries with collections of s-f & fantasy materials to offer them any surplus. Donations would not be discarded.
Regarding Lemonade at least, I have seen it come up on Twitter that his suit is sometimes worn by close friends at cons as a tribute to him. It’s like he’s there with them. This is separate from the “fake Lemonade” suit which has shown up.
“I often make a distinction between “furry” and “capital F Furry.” You can find this done with stuff like “democrat” and “capital D Democrat”.”
I too make that distinction, except that I call the lower-case F furry “Anthropomorphics”.
Vore the rich.
When I had a massive stroke in 2005 that’s put me into a convalescent hospital ever since, I donated my lifelong collection of furry books, fanzines, convention souvenir books, T-shirts, and everything else to the University of California at Riverside’s Eaton Collection of Science-Fiction and Fantasy. As a result, UCR has probably the largest collection of furry literature and research materials in the world. Joe Strike came from New York to the UCR’s Rivera Library to study the furry materials there when he was writing his “Furry Nation”.
But what does the UCR’s furry collection not have? It doesn’t have any fursuits. I never had a fursuit – I collected books – and nobody else has ever donated a fursuit to the UCR’s furry collection. Several prominent fursuiters have died since 2005, often in unexpected traffic accidents. They are usually young people, who did not leave wills. What’s happened to their fursuits, and their other furry materials – con badges, commissioned artworks, and the like? Given by parents to friends? Thrown out?
The UCR Library is not the only university research library that collects s-f & fantasy research materials. Many s-f/fantasy authors have given or left their manuscripts and papers to their university libraries. It’s time that furry fandom materials be likewise saved rather than thrown out on the fan’s death; or, considering how young the average furry fan is, when he or she loses interest in furrydom. If you want to contact the UCR’s Eaton Collection of S-F & Fantasy, write to me. Or contact any of the other university collections of s-f & fantasy research materials around the U.S. & Canada.
Fred, there are many fashion schools/colleges in the US that might be interested accepting a fursuit for their costuming collection(s), which I’m sure they must keep.
It might be a more appropriate home for a fursuit than say UC Riverside which basically collects printed materials. For instance here in NYC there’s the Fashion Institute of Technology. Also the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a costuming department. They’ve had esoteric shows and shows of fashions inspired by popular culture, including ones based on superhero costumes and punk rock.
I actually know a woman who works in the department via a furfriend; I might send her an Email to see if there’d be any interest on their part.
Great idea and that was going to be just my response…
If you get any interest, want to tell me? I would be happy to headline it and maybe encorage donating.
Germany is leading ahead of the US with that. There’s been a few articles in the US about fursuits-as-fashion from outside of fandom (I recall ones in Vice, Racked, and Audobon or some bird science publication about bird costuming). But none with real collecting as far as I know. Meanwhile theres a museum exhibit up right now at the Dresden Hygiene museum (IIRC) about pets and people that has a fursuit exhibit.
Just checked out that museum website; that exhibit runs thru July. Couldn’t find any pix of fursuits on the website, but there was a painting titled “Speculative REalism and the Cubist Rabbit” that shows a woman sitting on a bed with a bear who’s put his human hand on her shoulder – def’ly a furry reference.
This is getting more interesting by the second – FN’s publisher just sent a link to a high-end shoe company selling $340 sneakers with fur patches on top with the slogan “That furrrrrst class feeling”wondering if there was a furry connection.
And rather than ask the woman at the Met if her department wants a fursuit when there isn’t one around to offer them, I’m going to suggest they consider a future show mixing fursuits with fur-ish mainstream fashions. They’ve already had shows about superhero-inspired and punk rock fashions, so a “furry” show is not beyond the realm of possibility.
Would fursuiters from furry fandom be willing to participate in a fashion show with fur-ish mainstream fashions?
hey Fred, it’s been a topic – http://dogpatch.press/2015/01/12/furry-good-ideas-fursuit-fashion/
The Oakland Museum of California Art is pretty warm to pop culture and street art. They have had big Pixar exhibits. When a related exhibit was up they had a fashion show including cosplay and I got an invite to organize furries for it. Unfortunately it fell during 2 other events so it didn’t happen. But I’m sure it will in the future.
Read “Cartoon Charlie: The Life and Art of Animation Pioneer Charles Thorson” by Gene Waltz (Great Plains Publications, 1998).
Thorson worked for Disney and Leon Schlesinger/Warner Bros. in the 1930s. His specialty was designing “cute” characters; Elmer Elephant, Sniffles Mouse, Bugs Bunny, the cute woodland animals that gamboled around Snow White. His main claim to fame was for both designing and naming Bugs Bunny in 1938.
According to Waltz, Thorson was fired by both Disney and Schlesinger (and other studios) for getting drunk and posting pornographic & obscene drawings of his cute cartoon characters.
What would fans give today to see some of his cartoons of Bugs Bunny in porno situations!
Furries have made a movie; Bitter Lake premiered at in 2011 at Eurofurence 17.
That’s true. I guess I was implying a viable subculture for making movies. Bitter Lake had really bad reviews and I don’t think anyone besides a few furries remember it. It doesn’t seem to have gotten audience outside them or directly inspired further activity.
Another example is Videowolf’s Fursonas doc, which DID achieve excellence. Being both by and about furries (capital F fandom) and winning mainstream awards and real distribution on VOD.
It succeeded by having a strong narrative voice instead of being yet another bland by the numbers exercise for furries only. So it reached higher and got to be a strong movie-movie about subculture not just a “furry movie”. Which pissed off the right people and was divisive. That’s fine, populism isn’t quality (speaking of good movies, Blade Runner was a commercial flop).
I can’t wait for a good movie-movie to come out of fandom and get support to push more activity.
Bitter Lake was an adventure drama set in a fictional furry world with the cast in fursuits as anthropomorphic characters. Fursonas was a documentary about fans wearing fursuits. Both were movies, but otherwise apples & oranges.
I thought the main problem with Bitter Lake was that the actors were all in full fursuits, and you can’t do much dramatic in a full fursuti. The movie’s plot emphasized furry diplomats arguing around a treaty table, and an assassin slinking slowly around. There’s no action.
I’m not sure Patch’s concept of the-fursuit-as-art really works. It was true twenty years ago, when fursuiters were a tiny minority in the fandom and there were no fan-professionals, but this is no longer the case. Now the ideal seems to be to buy something either from one of the Big Name makers, or from someone who can copy their style for less money. When you look at those group pictures there’s a sameness that simply didn’t exist when Robert King began the fursuit mailing list. (Yes, I’ve been a round a while.)
A fursuit might be an expression of one’s furriness, but it’s also a commodity for most furs. Most of the time it seems to be something you get because you have a vague idea that you’re not ‘furry’ unless you have one. Yes, there are exceptions, but those exceptions used to be the rule. And I’m not sure people look to those exceptions for guidance.
One thing I am happy to see return is ‘how to make a fursuit’ panels. If more people knew how easy it is, how inexpensively it can be done, it could once again be a personal statement other than ‘this is why I can’t afford to get the car repaired.’
(I should add, I’ve been fursuiting since 1990. Always built my own, and done a few as favours; I’m probably up to around 30 by now. And mine have been seen OUTSIDE of furrydom far more than INSIDE it.)
Hmm. I think I have heard “___ was better in the old days” in a million forms by now…
It’s natural to have a perspective about growing up in a village and finding it turn into a city. But then, as growing as it is, furry is still a tiny niche. The biggest con hasn’t hit 10,000. That’s an order of magnitude smaller than other nerd events.
I don’t think fursuiting was ever a new thing that came in and took over. I just think the level of craft has risen in proportion to a real market it needs, when it used to be just made of isolated people with a sewing kit and a dream. Now we have the means to make it better than anything you can buy from a store. (That’s important.) I was at Anthrocon 1999 and the suits were pretty crude quality. It’s a galaxy apart now. If you see a vast proliferation of ones that bore you, don’t call it not-art, just remember Sturgeon’s Law – 90% of everything is crap.
These days I have noticed *some* cachet to having a Big Name Maker suit to a *few* people but there’s no lesser quality to having a nice suit that you have to ask who made it. It’s always character first, then maker.
I’ve been to lots of how to make a fursuit panels, and the high quality of freely shared online tutorials makes them fun but inessential – a change for the better maybe.
In the same comments section, we have someone unhappy that furry has become commodified (or is access less elite?) Meanwhile someone else is complaining of a “hostility towards the big studios within the furry fandom”. Those things don’t go together…
Honestly I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a cottage industry that’s still all by fans, for fans, and is thriving but still nothing you have to be part of to be a furry. I don’t think it’s unworkable to call it art when it’s better than anything you can buy from a factory, and something like a billion-dollar-tentpole of the movie industry can be taken seriously as art. What I can’t take seriously is… hostility to big studios? Where? Didn’t Zootopia drive furries everywhere wild?
Well, there’s this false notion that Disney play by their own rules when it comes furry media and therefore separate from the rest of the fandom. Yeah, the fandom went wild for Zootopia, but quickly went on the defence as soon as the “Zootopians” erupted out of it, just like they did with the Bronies and Sonic fans before that. As if there’s something wrong with just dedicating your furry activities to just fanart and OCs. That’s elitism, if there’s any.
So the hostility comes from the notion that Disney should stay in their own lane and not interfere with the fandom, which is quite ungrateful and goes against everything I’ve learned about Auteur Theory.
(Auteur Theory can also be applied to Uncle Kage, who’s ambitions and efforts is starting to look like Obama’s Last Year. Especially after the attendance number for MFF (which isn’t a PG-rated event) this year. AC ’18 will either break it or make it for him. And considering the successive return of yiffy scandals on cons these last five years or so…, yeah…, everything is at stake here.)
As the furry fandom evolves, there is going to be an element of commodification, because that’s what’s expected of pop culture, since there’s value in a name and people want to be associated with it. MiscMak and DHC play by the same rules as Disney by that point.
This is why we have to resolve and discard past conflicts that we had with Disney.
Disney doesn’t just play by their own rules, they make the rules for others. Copyright laws keep changing to accommodate their control of mickey mouse, they are known for top-down building a model for fandom (mickey mouse club) and managing theirs today.
That’s why DIY indie fandom is an upstart phenomenon worth cultivating from within apart from market manipulation. If one even cares about their hobby to that extent.
At the same time I think it would be naively tribalistic to sense any real “elitism” or hostility against people being fans of pop culture, one might need to get better friends if any of them even give a shit about that. I know kids care about silly stuff but everyone grows out of that.
Auteur theory has been ho-hum matter of fact for decades. It mattered in the 1950’s-60’s between the breakup of studio monopoly and film criticism becoming a middlebrow thing. Now it’s just as likely to be a pseudo-intellectual topic or for studios to put a shine on a bloated industry suffering from sequelitis and blockbuster syndrome. (Those are real business/culture terms, not sniping). Director voice isn’t a counterpoint to the difference between pop culture product and an indie scene.
If Disney makes a good movie they’re perfectly fine. It’s bizarre to hear people cheer for their billion dollar takes as if the CEO is about to cut them a check. Indie fandom doesn’t need to bother about it.
It would also be bizarre to propose that cons are in competition for growth (they’re not for profit) or that AC or Kage has to make anything.
What the original post talked about is a whole other topic. Stuff like simple access to travel and goods. Which still hasn’t had a single substantial example given…
Hmmm…I would like to see the author actually give some support to their conclusion, or at least detail what lead them to that conclusion, and why they feel why that might be the case at Anthrocon and not at the other furry con they went to. And is it different than how some ‘zine runners and artists were venerated in the 90’s?
Because of my work schedule, I attended just a few of the events at AWU and was impressed by the high energy level among attendees. As the author describes, I didn’t notice any obvious signs of economic class distinction.
This essay brought to mind some old quote from someone, perhaps Oscar Wilde, that goes something like this, “I hope that people with good taste acquire wealth, and people with wealth acquire good taste.” I looked online but couldn’t find a source but in the search I came across this magazine essay on research on how wealth can affect a person’s attitudes. You might find it relevant :
Perhaps what happens is that people get into social and economic bubbles, where everyone around them talks and thinks pretty much the same. From that position it can become difficult to imagine people outside of the bubble as having different views and values.
Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. The fact that it’s a fursuit and not a piece of fine art or a classic car or a prop from a popular movie isn’t going to change that mentality that people that want something bad enough and have the money to pay for it will.
But I would like to bring up a different point. I’ve been going to furry and non-furry conventions for over 30 years, and one of the more unique and disturbing trends I see in furry conventions and not the anime/scifi/gaming ones has been the “supersponsor” membership. At first, I started paying for this tier because I was under the idea that I was giving money to the convention to make it better for everyone.
Then things started to change. Supersponsors got private registration lines, early access to the dealers, early entry and private seating to events, priority and sometimes exclusive access to hotel rooms, private lunch/dinner with guests of honor, etc. The con-suite that was for everyone went away and became a supersponsor-only lounge. Supersponsor ribbons were being used as status symbols of “I’m better than you” instead of “I support this con.”
This is the conventions themselves that are promoting this attitude. There will always be the “pay more to get more” aspect to many things (first-class vs. coach on airlines, for example) but the conventions are going the wrong way about it. Supersponsors aren’t making the convention better for everyone anymore; things are taken away from regular attendees and given only to the supersponsors now.
So, I stopped paying for anything above regular membership. I donate the extra money instead directly to the charity. I make the con better for everyone by volunteering my time to check badges at a door or move equipment around. I try to make everyone’s con a happier and friendlier experience instead of segregating myself into a separate-and-unequal part of the convention.
I go to see friends and do some parties, maybe some panels, and definitely the dance and parade, and bring my own booze and a cooler of snacks… none of that stuff means anything to me. They still charge a measly $50 or so to do a weekend. I’m all for super sponsors subsidizing the door cost and some cool A/V show stuff at the dance for all.