The illicit allure of Smokey Bear, US Forest Service mascot
by Patch O'Furr
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Out in the wild, I saw a human sharing some very furry-adjacent news. Suzyn was on a group for paid Slate podcast subscribers, and this story was her suggestion for one they should do. If they wouldn’t, I thought someone should. Thanks to Suzyn for her parts, and I added comments for furry readers.
There was a related Slate story from December 2020: When Did Smokey Bear Get So Hot?
It shows his buff yiffability predates furries. Don’t blame us! Hot anthropomorphic animal people are just nature’s way of showing imagination is healthy. Proof:
When Smokey was a newly-minted mascot, there was a risk to taking this farther. The 1950’s American government, preoccupied with Red Scares, might have forecasted a subversively thirsty fandom and made their love forbidden.
A law passed in 1952 made it ILLEGAL to misuse the image of Smokey Bear. (Not Smokey THE Bear, the Forest Service gets salty about that). You could be JAILED. Here’s the law: 18 U.S. Code § 711 – “Smokey Bear” character or name.
In an omnibus bill passed by Congress in December 2020, this law was repealed for reasons unclear. (If I’m ever forced to testify about furries infiltrating the government, I’ll take the 5th).
This law was why Suzyn noticed Smokey; she personally wouldn’t mess with the government’s intellectual property rights, but it made her curious. She started looking into Smokey and the rules and fandom for him, and found it pretty fun.
First off, the rules for dressing up as Smokey are almost exactly the rules about being a Disney cast member in character at Disney theme parks — as in — they are to a layperson’s eye oddly strict:
Yes, the government mandates no breaking the magic. They say don’t be a stinker, brush your fur, bring an escort, and no wardrobe malfunctions or impropriety for the shirtless shoveler. It means sirens would go off if he tried to sneak into a furry convention after dark party.
For $2499 plus a $635 cooling system, there’s a full Smokey costume from pro mascot supplier Facemakers Inc. (“Sold ONLY to US and Canadian Foresters.”) If you can pony up 11 grand, Robotronics has an animated RoBear. There’s also an 8-foot inflatable costume from Signs & Shapes International.
Third, he was a real bear and in the 1950’s was so cool he needed a zipcode for his fan mail, something that may not even be true for Elvis.
The brawny hunk-a burnin’ love starred in many ads, TV and radio guest spots with celebrity hosts like Bing Crosby. There’s a decade-by-decade timeline with many of them.
Fourth, if your dream guest is Betty White, you’re in luck.
The history of Smokey Bear, the other celebrities who have appeared in ads with Smokey Bear, the “Smokey Bear effect” and, um, youtube fan videos where he fights McGruff are all out there.
Obviously, there’s a huge rabbit hole of weird. If you make videos, or have a podcast, a LOT of it is audio friendly and there may be some park rangers who would love to talk to you!
If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably enjoy this podcast — technically about Woodsy the Owl — but it discusses all those odd laws that also covered Smokey. (February 23, 2021): UnderUnderstood — Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.
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