Welcome to the first of my three-part blog post about Steampunk and Furries, two very differently-perceived science-fiction and fantasy subgenres, both with large internet fanbases and not a great deal of exposure in the mainstream media. I’ll be doing some comparisons, and trying to break down with can make both of these seem somewhat… unapproachable at times to people unfamiliar with the cultures, and why they can seem to be at odds with each other.
To explain first, the title ‘TRUKK NOT MUNKY’ is an internet meme popular with Transformers fans (well, at least people familiar with the tfwiki), relating to the advent of the new Beast Wars series in which the principal character Optimus was incarnated as a gorilla rather than a lorry. It’s an argument that’s both supportive and derisive of people who object to change within a given mythos. A more elaborate explanation is given here: http://transformers.wikia.com/wiki/Trukk_not_munky
To give this some personal context, I was into Beast Wars before Transformers, and entered into a sort of retrospective fandom. I did own original Transformers (well, Generation 2, I think), but didn’t watch the series. I bought the animated movie after getting into Beast Wars and Beast Machines, which in my mind are actually better for character development and overall plot, setting, etc. So I get frustrated when people go on abusing things just because they’re different. Franchises (and fandoms, too) need to evolve or they become dead in the water and left behind, practised by gnarled, over-protective fans with a fear of moving on.
Incidentally, I adore the TF Wiki. And Shortpacked.
So this post stems from a debate I’ve been having with myself for some time. After I attended the London Expo back in… October 2009, I think it was, in my first Steampunk costume, I was looking around the Steampunk panel and so impressed a Steampunk artist that he drew me and my impossibly heavy weapons. We talked, and I was really excited that he liked my Phoenix, but then he dropped in something that really threw my perceptions of the fandom. He was admiring my saw, and asked me if I wanted to join them later, as they were going on a ‘furry hunt’, and followed with something mildly disparaging that I don’t really remember. returning home, and looking about on some Steampunk forums I noticed some hostility towards furries, and it kind of worried me. I don’t know whether that’s just the internet in general, mind you- being still a relatively fledgeling fandom, Steampunk is likely to generate hardened internet loyalists before anyone newer to such subcultures.
But still, having written Legacy, and continuing the tetralogy whilst creating my Steampunk series The Song Chronicle, is there a place for me in both fandoms, or will I end up being ignored by both? One is a fandom fixated with animals, the other with vintage technology. Can they mix? What creates the tension between them? This we shall examine…
Man’s Best Friend
I’ll admit, for having written Legacy I haven’t given much attention to furries in my blog posts here, and I’ve put myself at somewhat of an imposition trying to distance myself from the connotations that the word ‘furry’ carries with it. But how justified is the prejudice? How different is the internet subculture that seems to be vilified on the same level as criminals and the most perverse of Internet lurkers? Actually…
In brief, a ‘furry’ is a fan of anthropomorphic fiction, artwork, movies, costumes, music and/or individual characters- principally depicted by animals or animal-people, or, more loosely, people with animal characteristics. But be warned, there are key distinctions that people on either side would gladly take you to task for if you incorrectly categorised them. ‘Anthro’ and ‘Furry’ have a slight distinction in their definitions too, if only to serve to separate something considered more mature from the stigma of ‘Furry’ by itself. ‘Anthro’ is likely the correct term and ‘Furry’ is the adopted nickname. I actually see them as different myself, but I’m in a position where I want to make that distinction, so I can’t exactly be called unbiased.
Po-Ta-To, Po-Tah-To; Anthra-to…
So it’s a selfish distinction, but I think it’s an important one. To me, ‘anthro’ dictates something deliberately given anthropomorphism in a reality or story to distinguish them from humans. Examples to me include Watership Down, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Dogsbody and Warrior Cats. They’re still fantasy, but kind of… milder fantasy, I suppose, something not quite so heavily caricatured, and still within the context of a human world. They keep their basic animal physicality, for the most part. Which would make stories set in an entirely animal world, given personalities and physicalities (such as bipedalism, non-digitigrade legs, clothes and/or armour) ‘furry’. Like Redwall, and, um, Legacy. So I’ve kind of defeated my own logics there, but oh well. Maybe I should learn to embrace furry a little more and make more of it. Maybe at the same time I can be encouraged to break the mould of furry fandom and convince others it’s not all about the porn.
(NB: In researching my post, I came across an old but really interesting list of Furry Novels, where the books are separated into ‘Animals Acting Intelligently’, ‘Intelligent Animals’ and ‘Intelligent Animalmorphs’. It’s really interesting to see, and probably a more succinct description than I have, in all honesty. See it here.)
Essentially the terms are interchangeable. But it depends you as to how you want to address it, and the fans themselves as to how they want to be perceived. I’ve said before that I’m not a furry, and that’s true (even though I twice cosplayed as Tony Tony Chopper from One Piece), but I have talked to a fair few. They’re really nice for the most part, if sometimes shy, secretive and a little cliquey (considering the abuse they can get from wider society, it’s not surprising, really), and it’s a shame that the whole group gets vindicated because of the mire of porn that hangs around. It’s not as if anime was any different when that was breaking out. For a time ‘cartoons or animated porn’ were its only descriptors, but now it’s turned into a pretty well-rounded subculture and genre-crossing medium. And furry is the same- you have kids’ films like Kung Fu Panda or Robin Hood, and currently My Little Pony, and then… the internet. And very little inbetween, save for what small efforts computer games and anime make to generate interesting anthropomorphic characters.
Like any subculture, or culture as a whole, furry has its weirdos with obscure, sometimes disgusting fetishes and has a fair share of introverted, defensive spokespeople and antagonists who just look to hate on it for its differences. But anime is exactly the same, and so are other fandoms. Complaining about furry gay porn and then singing the praises of ‘artistic’ shonen-ai or yaoi (‘young boy’ and gay manga/anime respectively) is somewhat of a double-standard: no matter how it’s dressed up, porn is porn.
Having said that, I can understand some of the reasons why furry generates slightly more detractors.
It’s The Fuzz
Before we even get into the obvious divisions between perceived bestiality and ‘normal’ sexual tastes, there’s something more emotionally intrinsic within furries. Going back to my ‘Werewolves vs Vampires’ post, it seems like there’s an introversion more inherent in furry than other fandoms, and that for a number of reasons. If you’re looking at the characters themselves, they’re able to wear their ‘inner selves’ on their sleeves, as it were, because the animal becomes a representation of a particular psyche. Not only have you got the cultural and spiritual associations of the animal itself, but you have the natural aesthetics of the creature, and that creates self-confidence. Combine this with the ideas that instinctive behaviours become more acceptable to show in this form, and you have a fantasy to escape to.
Fair enough, this doesn’t go for all people- I’ve never had a ‘fursona’ and I’m sure a lot of people don’t. For me, I love the looks of the animals and enjoy creating variety in characters and story as a result- they’re visual (or literal) representations of the characters. But for others, it must be a huge release, especially with the internet opening up the world to people with undernourished social skills or contacts. Let’s face it, who hasn’t been shy and self-conscious at some point in their lives, especially during puberty? But I think the people who wear the costumes, moreso than people who just draw or appreciate the artwork, wish to be accepted for what they want people to see of them, and use the costume to create that, rather than the costume itself.
It’s interesting from what I’ve seen of furries, they tend to be rather disparaging towards themselves and their own fandom, even within their comfort zone. Is it a kind of acceptance of their position and trying to diffuse criticism before it even has a chance to emerge, or the afore-mentioned introversion creating a lack of self-confidence? For being a fairly tight community there are some really deep rifts, and every so often tales of drama amongst community figureheads seems to seep down through the ranks and cause equal parts apathy, derision and name-calling on both sides. And for the most part it’s a self-sustaining fandom, with its works created by furries, for furries, which creates a kind of perpetual motion of more of the same. It was admittedly very difficult finding an artist for Legacy‘s cover because I wanted to find a great artist with no porn in their back catalogue. ShadowUmbre (Minna Sundberg) was an incredible find, heh. But she’s proof, along with many other artists, that furry art and culture can be accessible to a much wider audience if it wasn’t quite so saturated with its own history.
But then, it’s these characteristics that make it so unique. There are infinite shades across the spectrum from tasteful to outright disgusting, but it’s up to someone who wants to make a real name for themselves in the wider world to show everyone the bigger picture rather than just trying to please those who already know them. I want Legacy to be a success for me because I love the story, but if it helped furries generally, that’d be fine too.
Next time – TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 2: Steampunk
An introduction to Steampunk, the colourful personas that fill its eccentric anachronisms, and the darker side of the machines…