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Audiovisual Window Helps Generate Empathy Toward Furries

Even in ancient times many philosophers pointed to an inherent distinction between human beings and animals. Throughout history the philosophical tenet held that humans are rational, autonomous, and self-conscious beings capable of acting morally. Animals possess a sensitive soul and skills of perception and locomotion, but do not possess the same cognitive capabilities compared to human beings. Humans seem to be superior over their counterparts who only live by following their lower sensible (animalistic) inclinations. It’s self-evident that as human beings we possess the power and are at the top of the hierarchy. If this is our common sense understanding, then would any rational human being actually want to take on the persona of an animal? The answer is, and has been since the 1980’s, they would, they do…and it looks pretty fun too.

They call themselves furries. They are a community, a furry fandom, interested in fictional anthromorphic animal characters—the appreciation and promotion of stories and art about anthromorphic animals, as well as the exploration and interpretation of humanity through anthromorphic expression. In other words, they are people who enjoy not only stories, art and the science fiction behind anthromorphism, but enjoy dressing up as animals, and do so at furry conventions held worldwide. Furries take their fascination of anthromorphics seriously and indeed are willing to pay thousands of dollars for custom and original fursuits. Anthrocon is the world’s largest convention for people fascinated with anthromorphics, where fans, artists, animators, writers, costumers, puppeteers, and illustrators come dressed up (or not) to collectively express their fursonas.

As I watched the NBC newscast on YouTube, I could not help but agree with the Huffington Post in thinking, “there’s nothing to be afraid of!” It is a difficult task to relate to the unfamiliar, especially to relate to individuals who enjoy dressing up as fictional animal characters that walk and talk like humans. However, it is not as difficult to relate or understand to a particular “other” when there is a window that allows you to see the group in action. One not only reads about the community, but visually witnesses the individuals interacting, creating art, dancing, hugging, and taking pictures, as do other groups in other conventions or gatherings. As one furry points out, they are not much different from sports fans that paint their faces and root for their favorite teams. The only real difference is while love of sports is somewhat of a norm, love of anthromorphic characters is atypical of the larger portion of society.

The video, in interviewing fans at Anthrocon, allowed for me to see and hear their fursonas, and helped me empathize not with their particular interest, but with the reasons behind choosing to participate in this culture (to make friends, be less anti-social, express their inner child, escapism, etc.). Maybe I still do not fully understand the particular fascination with anthromorphic characters, but I could empathize with some of the reasons for why people would want to dress up and be these characters. Similar to the NBC newscast, the documentary below, by interviewing furries, putting a face and voice to the fursona, gives insight into why and how some people became part of the community. One example given was the enjoyment in creating alternate identities and becoming part of a larger community with likeminded individuals, which is similar to the emergence of online communities in which virtual identities are created.

Much of what I saw via YouTube videos, both taken at furry conventions, offered an authentic account of who furries are and what they do at gatherings, which strongly counters what other types of media portray the furry fandom to be. Other media outlets sometimes present furries as a sex-focused subculture, a sort of fetish community. The above videos, and the direct interviews, do not seem to frame any of the individuals as sex-focused or in favor of bestiality. Others outside the community may reduce the overall purpose of the fandom to either be about “kinky sex” or “believing that you’re an animal.” These are not two of the overriding principles of the furry fandom; there may be members of the community who believe in the former, latter or even both. However, these two stereotypes reduce furries personal aims in partaking in the furry fandom, and the overall community that is truly interested in the appreciation and promotion of stories and art of anthromorphic characters.

On the furry fandom’s social networking site, there were twenty questions posted on an adult forum by Mrs. Appleby seeking direct answers from people who identify themselves as furries. One of the questions posed asked, “Do you have sexual fantasies as your fursona?” Most of the users identified that they did not and would not have sexual fantasies. Nevertheless, some did identify that they do and would, which is representative not of the whole community, but of particular members. Needless to say, in every culture or community, there are always members who participate in the extreme(s). Moreover, in the forum titled “Introduce Yourself” many users posted pictures of their fursonas, but introduced themselves by their own names, distinguishing between their real selves and their fursonas. They even have a forum dedicated to sharing one another’s fursona and real pictures. This does not prove that all furries do not think they are actual animals, some perhaps do. However, by reading the interaction between the members on the discussion forums in which they write about their fursonas, share stories (their own unique writings), poetry, discuss art and favorite actors, many do not seem different, and so separated by the us and them boundary, as before.

The fandom in fact grew via the Internet. The Internet in the late 90’s was a major factor in allowing furries to socialize and interact to create a larger community. However, I as an “outsider”, even scrolling through the forums, was not able to empathize with the furry fandom, but only begin to understand the furry community and their interaction with one another. It took audiovisuals to make me more open to them by making them more open to me. By this I mean, when reading of furries on Huffington Post, I was viewing them through my literate window—the window that although I could open, still had an additional screen, preventing me from peering my head out in all directions to perceive the entire environment, to get a sense of what was really going on inside the furry fandom. I was still distanced from the community, making me lack any emotions toward the furries, unable to place myself in their environment. I was not able to empathize without seeing who they were and hearing why they were.

I’d like to expand on Neil Postman’s idea that all media have their own epistemological biases, and because we have moved from a typographic society to an electronic/digital society, we rely on images for information. We rather see than read because seeing is believing. He argues that this transition has grave consequences, and generally I would agree, but in this case, seeing is not just believing, it is feeling. Seeing (followed by hearing) resonates more with our emotions as humans and allows for us to perceive all aspects of the furry fandom, or whichever environment we may be viewing from the outside. With seeing and hearing I learned about the furries as opposed to gaining knowledge of them through reading an article. As I learned about them, as I saw them and heard them speak, I felt visually present, as though the screen had ripped, and my head was liberated to peer out in all directions, to get a real sense of why the fandom exists.

While each human has a different predisposition to either care less or care more, in a society saturated by audiovisual technologies where seeing (and hearing) may generate feeling and a sense of presence, there is no reason for why we cannot at least try to empathize more and ridicule less.

I could not explain what I feel now towards furries more passionately than LordShadrach, so I’ll leave it up to him to conclude.

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