Deranged Trekkies And Anti-Commie Propaganda: The Birth of Furry Culture
After RainFurrest 2015, the reputation of furries might never fully recover. Years of slow mainstream acceptance was spoiled in a single furry convention, lost in a storm of petty vandalism and libertinism, guests drunk with power and, well, alcohol. We should have seen it coming.
Furry fandom can trace its genesis to the long history of science fiction convention costumes. For those new to the culture, cosplay has always been around in some form. In the mid-70s, Star Trek ruled the roost. The cartoon animal trend was a rare sight among attendees. Cultural norms were never the major obstacle; however, fans have been creating their own original costumes since time immemorial. The primary stumbling block stifling the rise of furries was material, mainly money. Constructing a decent-looking Pepé Le Pew get-up was complex and costly. Dressing up like Spock required only a repurposed Beatle wig from the dollar store and some mail-order ears.
What we think of as the stereotypical furry fursuit wasn't a reality until after the internet age. Most modern fursuits are custom made either by dedicated tailors specializing in the niche craft or by individuals after much trial and error. The first fursuits were little more than a shoddy animal head and an S&M gimp suit. It was a little unsettling. Awkward convention attendees milled aimlessly about, leering at a crossdresser in a rabbit suit nervously gyrating to '80s alt-rock songs like a scene from the world's most confusing strip club. Grainy, handheld VHS is never a good look.
Interestingly enough, the minds behind the very first furry gathering, ConFurence, aren't such big fans of fursuits. Purists considered the colorful suits distracting from the art, many never donning a suit in their whole lives. For certain furry aficionados, their furry persona, or fursona (yes, that's really what they call it), exists only as a sketch, thumbnail image, or as a vague idea in their head. Most attach no sexual component to their hobby whatsoever. Long before the furry movement embraced nitrous-fueled dry humping and public defecation in the 2010s, attendees were more interested in the fan magazines.
Organizers of these gatherings usually attempt to maintain an apolitical, child-friendly atmosphere. It clearly ain't working out too well, having to contend with political opportunists trying to co-opt the fur lifestyle, inevitable perverts, and a few would-be fur messiahs. Furry culture attracts all sorts. Each offshoot branches off into more niche divisions, which only further splinters into numerous subcultures and distinct socio-political philosophies. No, it isn't always about sex; sometimes, it's about Nazi apologia.
How the tables turn. The once clean-cut, underdog furries were more or less driven away from mainstream sci-fi conventions. Trekkies dominated the scene like a street gang, abusing invited writers in what escalated into sci-fi-tinged-struggle sessions, shamelessly selling bootleg merchandise, and tossing pies at William Shatner. Paying customers behaved like boors, though the organizers often were considerably worse, embezzling cash. Star Trek nerds were fighting a turf war against the entirety of the sci-fi fandom, and they weren't taking prisoners. The bitterness is palpable in Shatner's contemptuous 1986 Saturday Night Live appearance.
"You philistines don't deserve a sixth season of TJ Hooker!"
By 1989, the furry contingent finally distanced themselves from the rest of the anti-social sci-fi community and unveiled their own convention, ConFurence. The furry aesthetic first gained widespread popularity in comics, in large part thanks to a US government employee. Cold War at a steady boil in the late seventies, Steve Gallacci landed an innocuous assignment one day, tasked with creating propaganda for the United States Air Force. A graphics specialist by trade, he spent his time producing line graphs and charts, not sexy rodents. Gallacci was ordered to create a mouthpiece for Uncle Sam to raise awareness of electronic warfare threats from the USSR. Air Force bigwigs simply asked for a Yogi Bear or Smokey the Bear knock-off. They wound up inspiring a new lifestyle and erotica movement. We'll leave it up to you to decide whether that was tax dollars well spent.
His training provided him ample skill to create his own amateur comics starring his original anthropomorphic cast of animals in space. Instead of following prevailing trends, Gallacci tried out something radically new. These early concept art pieces weren't funny and were far more human-like than a Disney or Hanna-Barbera creature, taking two big steps toward the uncanny valley. They more closely resembled Japanese anime. Furry art was born. However, we are unable to precisely pinpoint the date when the community got into diapers, but "crinkling" is the true point of no return.
A modest beginning, to say the least. It was a far cry from the yearly conventions all over the world and marketing blitz of branded apparel and Tolkien-themed dragon dildos and lube. The fanbase and subcultures have mutated into ways no one probably could have predicted in '76 when that pie smashed into Shatner's toupee, least of which being the onslaught of DeviantArt porn. Though, furries are quick to point out there is little screwing while inside the suits. Not because it is too embarrassing, but out of fear of heat exhaustion, to say nothing of the dry cleaning bill.
Top Image: Tyson Everick/Wiki Commons