Thursday, March 4, 2010

Memes, socio-archeological pseudo-investigations, and furries

How far back can we trace the first appearance of something on the internet? Sure, we all have our "memes" as Dawkins coined the term, but how often has someone tried to track down what was "posting zero," "the original upload" of a now viral idea?

With this post, I delve into the world of strange fetishes, and evolutionary theory. Please keep in mind my idle thoughts are highly speculative.

What comes to mind, and I will get to this after a little back history, is the relative ease that etymologists can trace words back to their origins. Even today, new words added to the dictionary must go through a system before getting cleared for entry into Webster's dictionary. For example, social scientists, political scientists, and many others have, on occasion, coined new words just to see how long it takes for a made up term to see print. Whether this linguistic hucksterism is a true test of a word's longevity has yet to be clearly distinguished. But meme's on the other hand, especially internet derived memes, how far can we trace their lineage?

Take for example, Furries. If internet rumors and popular culture are correct (a contradiction in terms that doesn't escape me), this social phenomenon is when fetishists dress up in rented animal costumes to perform coitus. It has become part of humor, bad episodes of CSI, and has well entrenched itself into being a "real" cultural occurence. However, I believe that "Furries" are an example of a meme run wild, a novelty that took life of its own and now is indistiguishable from the farcical to real.

Imagine someone is sitting around bored with a bunch of friends and they come up with what they think the most ridiculous idea in the world might be. One person posts the absurd notion to a fetish site as a prank. But people fail to see through the veil and believe that fetish exists. Essentially, that is our "post zero." The first internet trace of an idea. Here I propose that someone with enough time, resources, and a stomach for the detritus on the itnernet could possibly try and trace back the first occurence of this term.

Given that many fetishists have their own social network that predates the internet, it would be possible to comb through their litterature and communications to see if something like Furries existed prior to the era of new media. The basic concept is easy to follow and detective work--follow the paper trail, or the soiled tissue trail. But it doesn't necessarily matter. Triangulating between fetish texts, online bulletin boards, and netwrok of information, one should be able to come up with a reasonable timeline of the progression of the Furry meme.

While I speculate that this all began as a joke somewhere on a message board or possibly a discrete personal advertisement., tracing how this all translates to actual practice or how it spread to the popular media is more difficult to explain. I believe it has to do with the sensationalism of it all and the relatively benign nature of the idea. Sex while wearing an animal costume is really sensational, but it hardly likely to be harmful to anyone. A more violent activity would have raised more negative attention instead of novel attention.

I unfortunately cannot prove my theory. But I bet you can also talk to the individuals who participate in Furry activities. Almost everyone will say that they had never heard of such an act until _____ date. Or that they were told about by so-and-so, who introduced them to the practice. Here much like modern day epidemiology you can trace back to the first progenitor of a "Furry" group. My bet ist that person only heard about it "online," at first and had to convince others to join in.

So what conclusions can we draw? That Furries were the figments of boredome not manifest as sexual-counter culture? A few easily duped individuals can make society believe anything? Either prospect is frightening if you ask for my opinion.


  1. Well, I got as far back as usenet circa 1996 after hitting the Wikipedia page, but then I got too creeped out to investigate any further.

  2. You are a much more daring soul than I am...

    So we can reasonably assume that the meme developed more cultural currency after 1996. But How far back do we dredge the internet, usenet, or other archives of the depraved?

  3. The furry fandom goes back at least to the early 1980s. It used to be tightly tied to the science fiction convention culture and has always had some element of sexuality (we are humans, and humans are sexual creatures, no matter what a society tries to convince itself) but, as has happened to many other things, the sexual aspect really took off once it hit the Internet.

    And maybe this is the first time you are hearing this, and maybe it is the 9001st time, but sex in fursuits (the costumes) is very rare in comparison to drawn and written porn. Most furries (on the order of 85-90%) don't own a fursuit, even of the non-sexual variety; moreover, they are expensive to build well (hundreds to thousands of dollars to commission) and extremely difficult to clean. Unless one insists on screwing in the suit (and such furries do exist), it's much more convenient to screw like most every other human being on the planet does.

    Who was the zeroeth person to decide that fucking in full-body animal costume was a good idea? That is a question even the Great Old Ones of the fandom may not know---but who am I to say? I'm pretty sure none of that early communication which survives today was recorded electronically or in print, but I really don't know. You'd have to talk to them. The fuck if I know which ones. If you were truly serious about this, I know to whom I would direct you, but you should know how abyssal a rabbit hole you'd be descending there, Alice.

  4. You make an interesting point that further calls into the question of the validity of Furry-as-sex-fetish.

    Yes the sci-fi crowd always has a tendency to fetish and to the idea of aliens. But I truly believe that the use of full body suits as the fetish is known, was a more recent construct.

    People can draw antropomorphic pictures of animals/people/robots in coitus but performing is a different concept. And the point of costume cost, care, and cleaning is a major issue.

    If anything, sci-fi groupies may have become the first victims of this meme. They would certainly be the most technically savvy individuals to use Usenet and post video during the internets' infancy.

  5. Interesting... I had similiar thoughts about the origin of Christianity....

  6. In regards to Over's comment...