‘Fursonas’ is the 2016 documentary by furry filmmaker and director Dominic Rodriguez, whose furry nickname is Video. Released for the whole world to see on May 10th through video on demand (VOD), it has a running time of 81 minutes, and it depicts the deeply personal views on furry identity, acceptance, and interaction with the media, of several people interviewed within the furry fandom (including the views of the author himself.) While some of the viewpoints expressed can be considered provocative, they are in no way stated in a bold manner by the willing interviewees, but rather wishing to encourage discussion within the fandom: What’s our next step with the media? How should we apply tolerance or acceptance? What really is ‘furry’?
The movie is a different kind of feature film, unlike cartoon furry movies. It’s not about cute cheerful anthropomorphic animals. It’s not a movie you show to your friends to tell them what furry’s about. It’s a discussion about the fandom itself. It bears more resemblance to a recorded open dialog on the fandom by intensely involved members.
Is it worth watching? Yes. Every single adult who has some kind of emotional attachment to our fandom should watch this movie. The movie is in English, but Vimeo’s VOD service (link⇒) also offers subtitles in German, Dutch, French, Japanese, and Latin American Spanish. You can get the full list of video services that offer the movie at Fursonas’ website (link⇒). Herein follow some ponderings about the movie’s themes.
The Adult Content in the Documentary
The reasons why I recommend it to all adults taking part in the fandom, but not minors, are, I believe, in order of importance, three:
- The documentary overtly shows smoking in a joyful setting, as something that is fun and even a good thing. It is shown this way because of the realistic portrayal of the interviewed furries, and some of them like to smoke while they discuss in a relaxed manner. The fact of the matter is:
– Smoking tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States (CDC)
– 1 of every 4 deaths from cancer in the European Union are caused by smoking (EPHA)
– Smoking is a leading factor in developed countries for overall loss of quality of life and lower lifespan
– Long-term exposal to marijuana affects brain development and reduces cognitive abilities (NIH/NIDA)
– Etc. etc.
These and other facts remain in the pool of popular knowledge, and adults may consciously choose whether to take them into account or not, but there should be no encouragement given to minors to smoke. People who personally know me know my firm stance on this. It’s the first time I post such a disclaimer in the website and maybe I won’t mention it again. But. Smoking is a serious health risk that should not be trivialized.
- The documentary talks about serious subjects that children will not understand. Older teenagers might. If seen by older teenagers, it should be in a setting where calm discussion about the fandom is encouraged; otherwise they’ll lose interest.
- There are sex toys in the movie. They are not glamourized, they are shown as is. They purposefully appear to incite discussion about whether sex-related material or themes should be openly talked about or displayed to the media or to con-goers. The sex toys might not be something adequate to show to children. However, sex toys don’t kill people. Smoking does.
What It Is to Be Furry
Video chooses to interview only (willing) furries that are fursuiters. It could be considered a mistaken decision; the great majority of furries are not fursuiters. Video explains this decision in a Glamour interview: “Not everyone has a fursuit, so it was important to talk to people with fursuits — that showed dedication to the community.” (link⇒) Arguably, there are people even more dedicated to the fandom than any of his interviewees, that have never had or used a fursuit. We could start by naming major website administrators, and then continue the list with writers, artists, convention managers, and so on. This is, however, a minor complain that I wish does not derail the discussion of the movie’s themes themselves. Fursuiting as a ‘thing’ is mostly shown in the first half hour of the documentary, giving way to more important subjects.
And a subject that’s addressed, is the statements of belonging to the fandom made by some of the interviewees. Boomer the Dog is the biggest contender to the common definition of furry. As we all know, the furry fandom is most commonly defined as a subculture / group / cultural movement centered on animal anthropomorphics, be it cultural depictions that are imagery, literature, song lyrics, movies, role-play, and so on.
Boomer is a person who fell in love with a live-action TV series from the early 80s called ‘Here’s Boomer’, where a stray dog travels across the country helping people. From then on, he started collecting pictures of real dogs, barking like a dog, and dressing like a dog. He feels like a real dog inside. Personally, what I believe is his most striking achievement, is having a ‘fursuit’ that barely costs over 7 US dollars; that has to be the best ratio price-performance for a ‘fursuit’ I’ve ever seen (maybe only competing with ConFuzzled’s ‘frankensuits’). Anyhow, pretty much anything shown about Boomer has him closely identifying with actual dogs, not fictional anthropomorphic dogs. And this is me talking: that’s not what the furry fandom’s about, in general. Therefore, to have Boomer on TV talking about himself being a furry, as it happened (gaining some hatred in the fandom for it,) is a misrepresentation of what the furry fandom’s about. Furry is not about feeling like a dog, or loving real-life dogs. Several statistics collected by furries on general practices and beliefs can prove this.
But, should this be the case? From a descriptive standpoint, Boomer’s overall preferences are not furry, they are animalistic. From a prescriptive standpoint, I don’t know whether I should categorically say they should not be furry. Furry has evolved throughout the decades. As noted by interviewees, some furries believe the fandom should be about expressing yourself, being who you want to be and doing what you want to do, beyond common staples or boundaries. The furry fandom prides itself in being more welcoming to widely diverse people (while still, at some point, criticizing some members.)
To me, the clearest manifestation of the genuinely well-intended desire of the fandom to be inclusive and accepting, is Dr. Courtney Plante / Nuka’s struggle to objectively define furry from a sociological standpoint. He and his team at the IARP have had difficulties defining what a furry (person) is for their scientific studies (in order to then point out what furry fans do or like or how they behave.) There are many different people that take part in the fandom! Thus what they ultimately chose as a definition is: a furry is anyone who identifies themselves as such!
At a Texas Furry Fiesta talk, Nuka mentions that, amongst the hundreds of different fursonas he’s registered in his studies, there are some who identify as the species pastry. How is that even remotely furry? PRGuitarMan, the creator of Nyan Cat (a mix between a cat and a pop tart) and probably the most known pastry-related furry-like person, has a FurAffinity profile. And yet most of his art or interests aren’t really animal anthropomorphic. The editors at WikiFur describe him as a pseudofur, “someone who is in the furry fandom, but doesn’t quite fully consider themselves ‘furry'”. If he did happen to consider himself furry, and decided to appear on national television to talk about his likes as is (calling them furry,) would there be the same outrage that came out against Boomer the Dog when he did so? I don’t think so! Because PRGuitarMan’s stuff & memes are cool, popular, and hardly dislikable, I don’t think there would be an outrage. Whether his likes were an accurate representation of the fandom, or whether he’s really a furry or not, would not be a startling issue.
So if the real issue is not whether people are accurately representing the fandom when speaking to the media claiming this or that trait of theirs is furry, what is the issue? What do furries have against someone like Boomer the Dog, or Chew Fox? The issue is whether they’re disturbing. Creepy. Don’t cause sympathy. And who gets to decide that? One thing would be that they act in morally objectionable ways. But sex is not morally objectionable, whether in fursuit, out of fursuit, or chimpanzee style on a sex swing. Having an enormously ingrained passion for dogs and a dog identity is not morally objectionable either. It’s just unusual.
So why should we censor ourselves? Or censor others that wish to belong to our fandom, since we don’t share their particular preferences or tastes or take on life? The answer is, we should do this because the furry fandom is a stigmatized fandom in popular culture. There are visible repercussions to this fact in the movie: a furry interviewee, Diezel, lost his job because his employer didn’t like what he heard or read on the internet about furries. We furries don’t have it as easy as sports fans, or other fans, who can show to the whole world how passionate they are about what they like, without disapproval or scorn from the rest of society. And yet we yearn for approval and understanding. Just like any other social group! People feel happy and good when they don’t have to be secretive about their passions in life. So when we show ourselves as furries, we try to show the side of the fandom that’s most pleasant or agreeable. And that unavoidably means excluding others, marginalizing them. Against something that’s almost as important to the fandom, or sometimes even more important to the fandom, than animal anthropomorphism: the patently strong sense of friendship and community that makes us be the fandom we are.
Exclusion, censorship, or bitterness, are not a burden we’ve forced on ourselves through our own will. It is largely through the will of general society and media, that unnecessarily stigmatizes the furry fandom, that we feel we must exclude or control ourselves. By exerting this control, we’re undermining core values of the fandom; doing to other members, or to ourselves, what we don’t want society to do, to us.
The Media, Uncle Kage, and Anthrocon Policies
Furry fandom is still not a mainstream fandom, but it has grown large in the last two decades. Something that happened to me last week, that was absolutely unexpected, was meeting someone (who is a furry fan) that I had actually met almost a year ago at an event totally unrelated to furry. Just so you understand the chances of that happening, I’ll say Spain has a population of about 46.5 million people, of which around 510 are openly self-recognized furries. So whenever you meet someone here, there’d be approximately a 1 in 100,000 chance they’re a furry fan. That’s about a 0.001% chance. I was kind of amazed it happened, but it did! What would have the chances been 15 or 20 years ago? Probably not even a quarter of that.
There are more people than ever joining our fandom, even against the stigmatization we might suffer or have suffered. To the point that you will certainly find many people who do things you’re not into, or things you even somewhat dislike.
Uncle Kage’s stance and the Anthrocon’s policy is to strongly restrict the media from documenting their convention as the media sees fit, and to even mock and despise furries who give fodder to them for us to be stigmatized further. After many years of taking this approach, they’ve gained respect and love from Pittsburgh’s locals & media. What they don’t seem to realize, or don’t wish to take into account as much, is that they’re also excluding increasingly larger numbers of people.
Journalism and media is also a passion for some furries. Flayrah’s editor-in-chief GreenReaper, who is also a main administrator of Inkbunny and WikiFur, tried a couple of years ago to set a stand at the Anthrocon to advertise his furry journalistic website. His petition for a stand was denied, allegedly because a news report they’d done in the past only questioned whether it’s a good thing the Anthrocon board is strict in their approach to allowing attendance. GreenReaper makes no money from maintaining Flayrah or writing news, it’s a passion project. And neither do I. I created this open website, FurryFandom.Es, because I love the fandom, its culture and its people, and I wish for everyone who might be mildly interested in it to have the chance to learn about it and join in. I am now a furry journalist. It is at this point that I’m afraid that by questioning Uncle Kage’s actions, even though he’s someone I greatly admire and respect, I could be somehow excluded from taking part in Anthrocon as I most desire, maybe by reporting about it to Spanish furs and the world, if I ever get the chance. Dominic / Video is now banned from Anthrocon 2016, probably for not agreeing to its policy in regards to media.
Maybe they should be cautious with the general media. But to apply strict rules to furry media, like to Video / Dominic, to GreenReaper, or to maybe myself, is hurting a legitimate take on the furry life, on contributing to the community.
Uncle Kage claims to be a pillar of his local community, and acts as ambassador of the furry fandom. I don’t question any of that. He’s a doctorate scientist and a researcher. He’s worked for the FDA amongst other institutions, and has published several peer-reviewed studies. If you haven’t noticed in my previous interview with Nuka, if there’s something I love almost as much as furry, is science. And, he’s also the CEO of the world’s largest furry convention, that’s been celebrated annually for 18 years. 18 years! Certainly he must be doing something right!
But also, he feels it’s appropriate to publicly call, using a microphone, another furry, “a fuckin’ bitch”. And he states, scornfully on camera, that Boomer the Dog is a crazy person. Though these or other similar comments are something I could do in the privacy of my home (about people I don’t like,) to be purposefully caught on camera saying these things to others who amicably wish to be part of our fandom, is disheartening. It doesn’t show in a good light the furry fandom.
Also, he drinks too much alcohol. Admittedly it’s not distilled drinks, it’s wine, which is somewhat better because it’s fermented grape. But ethanol is nonetheless toxic; alcohol intake is the leading cause of morbility across many countries, and one of the most commonly abused drugs in the world, causing many more deaths and personal suffering than marijuana smoking. He likes getting inebriated. He often makes his speeches with a glass of wine, or a bottle or two, in his hands. That is something I respect, he still is a very functioning person; this is what he likes, he’s an adult and he can choose. Whatever. Still, it’s not a trait of someone I’d call morally above most people, or morally above most furries. It’s not a behaviour I’d happily show to my kids, if I ever have kids. In fact I’d be more concerned with showing alcohol abuse to kids more so than sex toys. Sex toys don’t kill people. Alcohol does.
So, as a fandom, what should we do about all this? I wish I had a firm answer. I wish I had as much clarity of mind about my approach as Uncle Kage has in the documentary. “Use chloroform on dislikable people when cameras go rolling.” But I don’t think the question “How should we approach tolerance in the fandom?” has an easy answer, or that this is an easy problem to solve. Welcoming anyone and everyone maybe isn’t the best thing to do. Consciously ostracizing others I don’t think is a good approach either, unless they have criminal intent (or something to that degree.)
I do know something that will improve the community, though. And that is, treating others who wish to take part in our fandom with respect. To strengthen the sense of community in our fandom not through angry mobs, or scornful attitude to other furries, but through genuinely well-intended exchange. Dominic’s documentary is not about us versus them. The documentary is about us versus us.
I want to personally thank Dominic for his documentary; and thank every furry who was interviewed in it, for their contribution to the project.