Furry Socialism: You’re Soaking in It! – by Tempe O’Kun and Dralen Dragonfox
by Patch O'Furr
Thanks Tempe and Dralen for this guest post, a good followup to my “heart of the furry economy“. – Patch
The furry fandom is big and complex. We each have our own groups of friends, and our little sub-fandoms centered around specific shows and interests. It’s easy to not see the fursuit for the fluff.
Once it a while, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at it as a whole.
Furry is incredibly socialist.
This seems like a weird statement on its face. How can a community of people who like cartoon animal media be socialist? Well, we make, buy, and sell things.
“But wait!” you might say. “That’s using money! Furry must be capitalism!”
Socialism doesn’t mean abolishing money, like they do on Star Trek. It just means the economy has to benefit regular people, instead of companies and a handful of the ultra-rich. In fact, since the Furry fandom literally invents itself without some overarching canon coming from any one movie, TV, animation, or comics studio, no one person can ever control who gets paid for their unique creations. This power resides in the creators themselves and the furries who support them. Furry is open source.
It’s also important to look at what furry isn’t: As much as furries love mass media aimed at us (either accidentally or intentionally), Furry is not run by any central authority. There is no corporation or boss dictating what can and cannot be in furry. There is also no central source for merchandise and licensing for “Furry,” and this allows everyone to create openly and freely. This decentralizing nature makes Furry impenetrable to corporate interests, by and large. Wal*Mart may sell cheap generic fursuit heads (which may be an inexpensive entry into the suiting lifestyle), but it’s not your character.
Furry also doesn’t own its own venues, hotels, or restaurants, so some of the things that allow furries to meet and mingle are borrowed and rented, and somewhat outside of the control of the event runners. As such, there are some aspects of furry culture that are subject to market forces beyond our control.
But once you learn that “creators controlling their own business” is the dictionary definition of socialism, you realize furries are positively soaking in socialism.
The furry community is exceptionally socialist. We’re just not used to thinking about it as an economy. Most of its commerce (be it art, fursuits, books, et cetera) is done by people who control their own means of production.
What does that mean? Basically: furry content isn’t made in a factory owned by some rich guy. Let’s say you’re drawing some furry art. You own your computer and graphics tablet. You post the art online without having to pay anybody for the privilege. You can even sell it directly to a customer without asking anybody for permission. (When has FurAffinity ever taken a cut of the money for a commission you bought there?) The product of your labor —the money— is pretty much yours alone.
This is the opposite of, say, making a car in a factory. Every tool you use is owned by some rich people, who get even richer by taking a big chunk of what the customers would otherwise be paying you. If you’ve ever worked a job at a restaurant you can’t afford to eat at every day, you’ve run into this same failure. If there are 10 employees and you serve 200 meals in a shift at a 75% profit, shouldn’t you each be able to afford to go to that restaurant —or one like it— about 15 times for each shift you work?
If your workplace charges ~$20 per meal, your labor’s worth $37.50/hour.
If your workplace charges ~$10 per meal, your labor’s worth $18.75/hour.
This model applies to just about any business: grocery stores, fuel stations, electronics stores, factories—you name it. It’s a simplification, but not by much. (Tempo, one of the writers of this article, worked for almost a decade building account systems for businesses.) Most businesses run on 6th-grader math.
Where does all the money go? A lot of it goes towards paying another company for advertising to get more business to make the higher-ups more money, while the workers have to work harder and longer hours for the same pittance. (A great advertising campaign doesn’t result in wages going up.) Do the math for your own job some time. You just need to plug in different values. Think about how different your life would be if you were paid a fair wage. This is why people get so mad that economic growth and tax cuts get surrendered to the wealthy. If rich people stop getting paid for doing nothing, we can all afford to live the good life.
No matter what you’re doing in the furry fandom, you’re not handing off most of your paycheck to billionaires.
- Art Commissions: It takes a lot of drawings to wear out a graphics tablet. Most of what you’re paying for is the time it takes to practice for a decade or more, read 1000 tutorials, get an art degree, and finally draw the picture of your fursona booping Nick Wilde’s snoot.
Meanwhile, commissioners support artists and share their commissioned pieces for social capital. It both boosts the artist’s visibility and supports their creative endeavor financially, like the relationship between patrons and artisans in the past, when art was more highly valued socially and culturally.
- Fursuits: Fake fur and plastic foam cost very little compared to the time it takes to make one—and train to make a good one. Not to mention all the extra time and sanity it costs the maker if you’re getting it customized.
- Novels: Even books work this way. About half of the cover price goes to printing, but the rest is split between the publisher (a handful of furries who edit, assemble, and sell the book) and the writer and illustrator who you’re mostly paying like a commissioner. You’re just splitting the commission with everybody else who bought the book!
At a larger level, conventions themselves are pretty darn socialist.
- They are controlled by the community, not some outside company. Want to help run the con? Just sign up, work hard, and stick to it year after year. You’ll end up running a panel track or the artist alley or some other big aspect of it. A lot of cons make a big deal about joining as a volunteer and then moving up to staff, but guess what: The staff are all volunteers, too!
- Nobody is getting rich off them. Even the “CEO” of a con is working for free. Your reg fee goes to cover renting the space, printing badges, and other shared expenses. The sponsors and patrons at a con help subsidize and lower the cost for regular attendees.
- Content they produce is available to all furries, even if they didn’t attend. When your favorite author launches a new book, is it only possible to buy it at the convention? No way! It’s usually available online within days of the con ending, if it wasn’t already on pre-order. But convention sales recoup a lot of printing costs, which makes it worthwhile to print the book in the first place. What’s more, a huge amount of projects get started at conventions, simply because you’re putting so many creative furries in the same place and letting them brainstorm. We all benefit. Even if we never attend a single convention.
- More money doesn’t buy you a radically better experience. Even the shiniest super-sponsor only gets additional swag/access—both of which are available to regular attendees. Some cons offer a special “gala” event in thanks to the patrons and sponsors that gives an air of exclusivity and elevates the overall experience without truly stratifying the total experience of all of the different levels of attendees.
The same argument could perhaps be made for furry art sites.
- Community-run, non-profit. All the mods and coders are volunteers. When you comment on FA or post photos from a convention on social media or even just add tags on e621, you aren’t doing that for profit. You’re doing that because we’ve all agreed, without ever saying it aloud, that we benefit from people pitching in.
- For the benefit of everyone. For the low price of zero dollars, you can make an account on a furry site and check out tons of cool art and stories. The same applies at the friendly furry newspaper you’re reading right now: articles about the fandom, written by people in the fandom, hosted online for you for free. No pay walls, no levels of membership.
- Money can’t buy you a meaningfully different experience. Some furry sites sell memberships, but this is basically just a PBS tote bag—a thank you for donating money. Having a little star by your username doesn’t change your experience much.
- Even for-profit sites are artist-run. Sexyfur, Tailheat, and anyone on Patreon require payment—but even these often make some version of the content available. Even in these corner cases, you’re still supporting independent artists directly and not giant corporations. Artists that make some or all of their money through Patreon or some other sort of paywall are still controlling their own production, and charging what the market will bear in a collaborative way with their patrons and customers.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
So the furry fandom is socialist. What good does that do you, as the average furry? Well, it means that the economic system of paying billionaires to do nothing all day isn’t the only game on Steam. We, as a society, have options. And it’s examples like furry that you can point to when you’re having conversations about how the economy should work.
The furry fandom as we know it couldn’t exist without socialism. Just because you’re buying a fox costume doesn’t mean you’re not spending real money.
Socialism isn’t magic. It’s just math. It even works in our fandom, where the math is always a little fuzzy.
About the writers:
Dralen Dragonfox is a Toronto furry that has been in the fandom since 1993, and currently is on staff for Camp Feral!, volunteers for Furnal Equinox, and co-founded the monthly party Howl.
Tempe O’Kun is a novelist (Sixes Wild, Windfall) and writes for furry media analysis channel Culturally F’d. He lives in North Dakota and is a husky dog cowboy.
"Why do millennials hate the rich?"— Smol Fluffy Boi With A Bow (@Fox_Fusion) July 11, 2018
"Why do millennials pirate everything?"
"Why do millennials drift towards socialism?"
"Why are millennial furries?"
One answer: Disney's Robin Hood
Editor’s note from Patch:
I suggested adding “what furry isn’t”. If we talk about things not being centrally-planned and stratified, even different wealth or popularity doesn’t stop an average fan from participating DIY-style.
If we say it’s not industrial-capitalist, that means there’s no furry-labor-class with furry-bosses ruled with automation. Even computers and imported fake furs make bespoke, handcrafted goods and experiences. Mass media/pop culture directs other fandoms, but furry has exceptional independence (I call it a dance with the mainstream.) And it was here in the 1980’s, fully-furred with its own cons and hand-made media, before the internet helped it grow.
If it was “libertarian” capitalist you might have to pay a private owner for sharing art. There’s respect for original fursonas, but that’s a social contract when it’s nearly impossible to truly enforce copyright and licensing of collective creations like a fursuit by a designer, maker, performer and photographers. (Stay tuned for my interview with Quietfire Tiger, where that point came from a Hollywood costume department for his TV appearance on Lucifer.)
It’s a village-commons concept. It has cottage industry where “pro fans” make a living fan-to-fan (see the heart of the furry economy.) But the village has no king.
Of course, it’s mostly culture and leisure. Furries don’t own hotels or properties (except some furry houses) so meatspace meets are temporary. But that can also happen for free in a park or a walk around town. While not everyone has the privilege to fly around to cons, uncritical nerdy fandom runs on passion. You can call it a bubble of escapism, and it may skew male and young and highly educated – but it still makes a worthy ideal and working model. (Silicon Valley skews the same way, but it’s seen as a test-bed.)
It’s also organic and nobody decided who could join. If you’re conservative, libertarian, or other, contributing good content outlasts natural disagreement among sub-fandom groups. It takes special effort to earn unwelcome.
I'm friends with people of all affiliations and yet none of them share racist memes, debate the reality of the holocaust, bash LGBT rights or spend time praising fascism.— Chip Fox 🦊 (@chipfoxx) July 13, 2018
Differing views don't require hateful behavior, which is why most people choose not to associate with it.
The village concept and its organic success contradicts some shrill, trollish “OMG communism!” screeching from a fringe. When the community discusses being healthy about itself, rejecting nazi-furs isn’t “dictating” or “totalitarian” at all. It’s simply a very basic standard of free association by those who don’t want to hang out with hateful losers. Speaking of…
Oh look, alt-right fan art! Enjoy the self-owning irony of using Orwell, as if he wouldn’t say “Nazi Furs Fuck Off”:
“The only regime which, in the long run, will dare to permit freedom of speech is a socialist regime. If Fascism triumphs I am finished as a writer — that is to say, finished in my only effective capacity. That of itself would be a sufficient reason for joining a socialist party.”
– George Orwell, “Why I Joined the Independent Labour Party.”
George Orwell was socialist and his book Animal Farm makes a fine match of furry and politics. He wrote Homage to Catalonia about joining the Lincoln Battalion (the first racially integrated American military force) to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War. (Read: Far-right commentator gets ‘schooled’ by historian over George Orwell and Antifa.)
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I agree with a lot of the points in this article but I am not a socialist and I never will be. Capitalism has a lot of problems and is often unfair, but socialism or communism or whatever you want to call it always causes more problems than it solves. A socialist community may be pleasant to live in, but you would not want to live under a socialist government even if it was not a severely corrupt one like most of them have been. Socialist and communist governments have committed just as many atrocities as fascist ones have and even when they don’t commit atrocities and respect human rights (which most do not) they still never work as well as they promise they will. Just look at how badly almost every far left country has turned out. And here in the United States, just look at how many problems far left states like California have. California has been ruled by the left for a very long time, so why does California have such a horrible economy and so many homeless people?
Just to be clear I am also not a libertarian or a fascist. Fascism is toxic, and libertarianism only makes the problems with capitalism worse. I believe that the government should only be as big as it needs to be to keep the rich from abusing their power and make sure that everyone has a fair chance to rise to a higher class though hard work.
Even if the furry fandom is a socialist community, it probably would not be possible without the capitalist environment it exists in. A socialist community and a socialist economy are two very different things. A socialist economy requires a powerful government to run it, and big governments simply do not work, because of bad decisions, corruption, and inefficiency. And if they don’t respect certain freedoms they turn into horrible tyrants, just like any other government.
Who said anything about government? It helps to respond to the content of the article instead of making it up.
I remember societies organized on village-commons principles existing for *checks watch* always – whether or not there’s government elsewhere to run it.
Gosh, California has a horrible economy? The largest in the US and the 6th-largest economic entity in the world? No wonder people flock here from elsewhere whether nationalized health care and safety nets etc exist or not. I’m here, it’s expensive as hell, people make trade-offs to be here for reasons that don’t exist elsewhere. The problems they have here are the same problems the whole country has and they’re concentrated because it’s such a busy and powerful place. Sorry to remind you of rural/red state opiate epidemics.
It’s funny how you can switch “socialist” with “capitalist” in that comment and it stays the same. There’s no such thing as “pure capitalism” without strong government regulation to keep it from accelerating out of control with wild overproduction/depression cycles until it eats itself and collapses.
Inert rhetoric goes nowhere by itself, which is why I prefer to use really specific points.
Like when I talk about “furry industry” and use fursuits as an example (essentially the visual showcase of a community’s peak creative power, where the “money shots” at conventions put millions of dollars of hand-crafted art on display that can’t be seen in one place in any other way). The specific point was, it’s nearly impossible to truly enforce copyright of those collective creations, as told to a specific furry by a hollywood costume department on set of a TV production.
This article is tendentious, one-sided, with an agenda. It attempts to gain favorable views towards socialism in the context of national politics. The proof is that it uses definitions selectively. Furry fandom is socialist in the same sense sci-fi fandom is socialist, using the definition of socialism as provided by the Oxford English Dictionary, and expanded by other traits remarked. In a very different manner to government policies. By its nature as a fandom.
The article mentions capitalism. But the definition of capitalism in the Oxford English Dictionary is:
“An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.”
You’ll notice the definition says “a country’s trade and industry”. Furry fandom is not capitalist. Trivially so, because it is not a country (nor it is associated with any particular country).
You could of course modify this definition removing “country” to open up a discussion on whether furry fandom is socialist or capitalist. But this is beyond my point, because what I want to show here, is not whether furry fandom is socialist or capitalist. What I want to prove is that this discussion makes no sense if we’re to use the definitions provided by the Oxford English Dictionary. They don’t contemplate a discussion in which socialism is contrasted with capitalism in a non-national policy context.
And indeed, this contrast doesn’t make sense. People usually speak about socialism or capitalism in matters related to national policy. Not about a group of fans of cartoons. The author makes the contrast anyway because he is prejudiced in favor of socialism.
Socialism started with Enlightenment philosophy and developed as anthropological study, my friend. Not national politics at all. At most idealistic it’s explicitly against those (and the pukeworthy thing they call “national socialism” which is as socialist as the DPRK is democratic, slavery and racism are anti-social).
I love how people go “hurf durf lefties = big government” but … uh anarchism
If a fandom has a community (it does) that relates in specific ways (they do) that aren’t the same as the larger culture (it isn’t) then we’ve got a useful topic, and I’d love to hear people engage it without going “nuh uh.” 🙂 People are another species of animals, so if anything I’d think furries are a group with extra special capacity to engage this. Same as Star Trek fandom before it.
You haven’t addressed my point. The article is paradoxically against the Oxford English Dictionary & the conventional use of the terms “socialism” with “capitalism”. It wasn’t written in the Enlightenment either, 18th century. It selective chooses definitions, i.e., it favors an ideology.
Ya didn’t make a point except “nuh uh”, silly. 🙂 There are no national politics in this article. At all. Literally nothing. It’s even internationally co-authored. “Social organization” and “community” doesn’t belong to any country.
And the OED refers to capitalism “within a country” because that’s the world we live in, however that same definition is also referring to “system, trade, industry” which is also global and not any one country. Notice how it doesn’t say “American” (or other place)?
Oh dear, it looks like I started a big argument. I just meant to say that I respectfully disagree with socialism. I agree with most of the stuff the article says about the fandom, I just wanted to give my opinions about socialism.
I don’t think they were replying to you at all. Or the article either. Just “lawyering” against the dictionary.
I have two commenters basically letting the contents of the article whoosh overhead.
What part of the article do you disagree with? Why? Can anyone illuminate or rebut the way it describes furries organizing their cons, sharing their art, and doing it all based on volunteer sharing with power to direct what they do themselves, without a tiny percent getting the bulk of the benefit?
I never said I disagreed with the article. I just don’t believe in socialism. It’s perfectly fine that the furry works in a way that is “socialist” as this article describes it. I just wanted to give my opinion on socialism why it doesn’t work as way for running a country.
So to sum up: it doesn’t work but it’s perfectly fine and we have to look elsewhere to get engagement with the article I guess.
Just been having some great chat with furry company starters about solutions to streamlining the current conventional fandom way of negotiating commissions, and how they’re faring vs. shady-ass companies focused on capitalistically “growth hacking” into various markets.
It’s going to be an interesting issue coming up if people are actually *conscious* of the functional terms of doing things so far described in this article.
Which, often, they do appear to be. https://twitter.com/ruxbat/status/1019374621965996032
Furry is almost strictly a Western middle-class cultural phenomenon. It’s not the immediate result of third-world superexploitation/colonialism/imperialism/what-have-you, but that doesn’t make it socialist. You need lots of leisure time and money to build costumes, churn out drawings, and so forth – leisure time and money that much of the planet doesn’t get.
Culturally it’s a mixture of SF/fantasy elements peppered with the side effects of certain forms of children’s entertainment products becoming hyper-successful in the last 50 years, plus some elements of underground kink culture. It exploded once a population of pubescent children of the global labor aristocracy got an anonymous electronic forum for sharing their sexual fantasies with one another.
You can attempt to move it in a progressive direction (say, by purging all predators and trying to make control of the community more democratic), but there’s nothing inherently progressive about it. Just because nobody’s making huge profits doesn’t mean that the people in charge of certain cons and artsites aren’t engaged in the same kind of bad behavior.
What’s really weird though is that the article just handwaves away how the subculture has, in the past 10 years, gotten more consumerist and more commercial than it was before. e621 started as a community effort then got repurposed as an ad platform for Dragonfruit, and FA, also once a community effort, is part Sean Piche welfare program, part IMVU advertising platform.
(Incidentally, IMVU itself seems to be a comparatively harmless cash-in, but Dragonfruit was founded by a cop-worshipping zoophile. Why Kamo and his MCSO buddies never freaked people out nearly as much as Foxler and friends did despite being at least as harmful and more insidious is an excercise for a later date.)
tl;dr seems like “furry is bourgeois.”
It’s easy to look backwards and say it’s strictly a Western middle-class cultural phenomenon, but that’s not all it can be.
If it’s taken for granted that internet access isn’t for everyone, furry was still here fully-fledged before the 90’s.
If 3rd-world poor people don’t have a lot of leisure for art, there’s still crossover to find like street art. You can find images in it that any furry would embrace. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/lists/activities/graffiti-tour-around-world-street-art/. For the political kind “the format of the political cartoon includes some of the earliest instances of anthropomorphic or funny animal art as it is known today.” https://en.wikifur.com/wiki/Cartoon
There’s relatively huge growth of fandom in Latin America right now:
That mentions an animator I studied under and his NGO work. In 1989 he did a mission to Latin American countries to reduce AIDs among street children, like kids in Guatemala who were at risk from what they did for survival. They test screened educational cartoons on the side of a van. The point was, if they weren’t literate, cartoons were universally understandable.
I can’t say I’d be chatting people around the world without this subcultural connection. There’s an explosion of fandom in south Asia, India has a middle class bigger than the US population, there’s furries in Iran and I’ve chatted ones in Uganda. http://dogpatch.press/2016/10/25/furry-fandom-southeast-asia/
“More consumerist and commercial” seems super relative, I don’t think it’s a given. In the 80’s fans orbited aspiring pro illustrators and there was a split between that and just-fans (I have a long email chat about this with Mark Merlino). Some of those went on to be fairly big in mainstream media and are barely recognized by furries at all now. I think there’s less, not more of that kind of commercial/professional orientation.
No con is sponsored by a corporation and cons have exploded. Their GOH’s aren’t so much animators/voice actors/etc with mainstream credits like before, now they’re also fandom-grown fursuit makers and illustrators.
As far as platforms, sure there’s money involved but not necessarily directly. Why couldn’t FA make a relationship with a payment processor? Think about that. It seems to have the whole paradox of “furry commercialism”. FA sold in what I’ve seen speculated as a deal to support it, not draw lots of profit from it because of rumored old school furries high up at IMVU.
As far as startup like growth-oriented commercial businesses like BD, that one kind of… is what it is, how much can you expect values with rubber horse dongs… that also isn’t something every furry has on their shopping list, it’s kind of a niche (even if an attention getting one) that also has significant kink customers pretty far outside fandom. And, their Furry Network site hasn’t taken off.
For some other businesses I agree it bears watching, but some attempts like that haven’t taken off either: http://www.flayrah.com/5283/furries-share-worries-about-pay-dating-fraud-spotlight-furflingcom However I was casually planning a roster of things that might be considered commercial to look at how much attention it really deserves. I don’t know if it’s as much as you think. There’s going to be some more no matter what if the whole population is growing.
Lastly I don’t think the point of the piece is that things are intentionally progressive. I think the village model isn’t social engineering, it’s just organic and working.