Thursday, April 19, 2012

Steamfurries! Salon (Edited Transcript)

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: All right - guten Abend, everyone, to our April Salon. By happy coincidence with Easter and other spring celebrations, we have Herr Blackberry Harvey here to speak to us. He has been a member of the Babbage community, contributing in several ways, for about three years, and we are fortunate to have had him build this building as well.

Bitte, remove any unnecessary scripted items, including weaponry except for carrot guns.

Herr Harvey, if you would.

Blackberry Harvey: Thank you, Herr Baron, Salonistas everywhere, people of New Babbage and all the Steamlands!

My name is Blackberry, and I am a SteamFur. Of course, that's not *my* name, it's the name of a representation of me, a SecondLife persona I adopt.

Blackberry is a furry. More specifically, he is a furry character or furry persona. I, the typist, am a furry. More specifically, I am a furry fan, a fan of anthropomorphics in art and literature. Okay, so what does *that* mean?

"Anthropomorphic" just means "human-shape". Furries are anthropomorphic creatures -- animals with human form or humans with animal characteristics. They're very common in storytelling and even in advertising -- Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Aesop's fables, Br'er Rabbit, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tony the Tiger, the Geico gecko are all examples.

Steampunk is all about storytelling too, so it seems like a natural fit! But let me explore a bit more where this all comes from. It's not limited to only things with fur -- birds, reptiles, cetaceans, even fantastic creatures like dragons and minotaurs and satyrs have human and animal qualities to them.

I mentioned Aesop's fables... But the entire concept started even earlier than Aesop and Greek literature. The caves of Lascaux are full of depictions of humans with antlers and tails, or animals standing on their hind legs and dancing with the shaman. The earliest known "furry" art is this statue on the left, from a cave in Germany, dated at around 30,000 B.C. Together with depictions of humans, and depictions of animals, these depictions of human-animal hybrids are some of the oldest artwork our species has ever made.

And it's not just in French and German caves; it's universal. Native Australians made the same kind of paintings and petroglyphs, and Egypt... and Babylon... and Mexico... and the Pacific Northwest... and Japan...

Almost everywhere societies of all kinds sprang up, they told stories about their gods and demons and heroes using creatures with some combination of human and animal features and characteristics.

So what's going on here? Why are anthropomorphic creatures so popular in storytelling? One reason is that we, as humans, anthropomorphicize the animals first. We talk about a lion being proud, a stallion being noble, a cat being devious, a raven being tricky, a goat being stubborn, an owl being wise, a bear being a big brute, a bull being clumsy, a rabbit being timid, and so on -- we assign our own behaviors to them. Except, of course, cats really are that devious.

We make them exemplars of their characteristics because we see ourselves in them. They are us and we are they. We can then take those exemplified features and attach them to what we know best -- ourselves -- and now we have a character with both the blessings and curses of both worlds. Heightened senses but also doubt. Lightning reflexes but also guilt. Intelligence but also primal fear or rage. This isn't new. Societies which use the language of totems figured this out a long time ago. If you're strong and loyal to your family, you have the bear totem. If you're a bit of a jokester, you might have the coyote totem. We've got an instantaneous, universal language about who or what a character might be like. And these characters can interact in a story or shared fiction with human characters one on one and fit right in.

Take Bugs Bunny. Bugs exemplifies qualities we've assigned to the rabbit -- quick, clever, hippity-hoppity, curious, playful. You can know these things about him just by looking at him. All you need is a picture or a quick description and you know that without having been told and without asking.

Aesop's fables are fabulous examples of using this universal language. Reynard the Fox, whose adventures first appeared in an epic poem written around 1150 and popularized throughout many Medieval stories. Blackberry Harvey: Puss In Boots, from 1697. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865. The Br'er Rabbit stories, adapted from African and Native American trickster tales and first published in 1879. I'm not just picking out rabbits here, we're just that popular! And more... The Island of Dr. Moreau, 1896. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1900. Peter Rabbit, 1902.

Then we get into the world of moving pictures and a new renaissance of furries as storytellers. Felix the Cat, 1919. Mickey Mouse, 1928. Porky Pig (the first of many Looney Tunes stars), 1935. Furry literature except for comic strips dies out a bit, with a resurgence at the publication of Animal Farm, 1945. Fritz the Cat, one of the bellwethers of counterculture, 1968, which began a massive explosion of furry art and literature that of course continues on today.

How many other examples of pre-modern anthropomorphics can you think of?

Ceejay Writer: Krazy Kat?
violet the all purpose animal (violet.solano): the mossflower books
Tali Rosca: The Japanese myhology and folk stories brim with them.
Arnold (gager): When is pre-modern cut off?
Blackberry Harvey: I'd say before the cinema... ?
Zanya: The Bible.
Blackberry Harvey: Oh, good one!
Zanya: Poor Snake, he's the bad guy in a lot of myth and stories.

Blackberry Harvey: You can all see what a great storytelling tool anthropomorphic characters are. So what does this all mean for steampunk?

Steampunk is a genre which I think actually lends itself better to furries than almost any other. For one thing, steampunks are very aware of the literary aspect, even the influences brought to a virtual, visual world like New Babbage. And since there's currently no way to have furries in real life, their home *is* art and literature. Look back at the list I just gave you. Many of the founding works of modern literature *period* are in that list. Books that inspired people to want to tell their own stories, with or without furries. Not to mention all the ones in our own pretend time period.

Tali Rosca: Steampunk is already "our-world-but-not-quite", so very human anthropomorphs seem to fit nicely.

Blackberry Harvey: Very true. While it hasn't been a huge part of what we would call steampunk literature since H.G. Wells, the adventurer spirit of Reynard and Puss In Boots coupled with the scientific experiments gone wrong of The Island of Dr. Moreau I think makes we furries natural denizens of steampunk stories in general and the steamlands specifically. There wouldn't be furries without literature. One could argue that there wouldn't be a good deal of literature without furries either!

Taris Quickpaw (darian.llewellyn): couldnt you say many Sci-Fi genera lend themselves well to furries?

Blackberry Harvey: Definitely. Science fiction tends to discuss encounters with the "other", whatever that is. And furries are one way to be "other" while still being familiar.

So that covers literature; what about what we do here on SecondLife, in Babbage and in all the other steamlands? Again, I think steampunks have a leg-up here, if you will, though not to pee on it.

Ceejay Writer: you mean drink coffee and dance?

Blackberry Harvey: Leg up to pee after the coffee.

Even if you don't actively roleplay when you come here, steampunks are keenly aware, moreso than most other denizens of SecondLife, of the concept of a persona. Pretending to be someone else just meshes in well with pretending to be somewhere and somewhen else. Putting on an evening gown and dinner gloves with welding goggles and a satchel of tools, talking like a Victorian and building an airship, you've got to hold the fantastic and the realistic in your head at the same time.

Ceejay Writer: I've mostly considered furries in Steampunk to be the products of scientific experimentation, myself. My steampunk persona thinks that, to clarify.

Blackberry Harvey: The abundance of scientific experimentation certainly makes it very easy to explain our existence!

Anyway, you all already know how to use a characterization to exemplify traits. Mr. Tenk. Mr. Underby. Dr. O. Kaylee. Bookworm. Tepic. I can go on and on. Through my three years in the steamlands, I've met many people of all sorts from all backgrounds. Some furry, many not.

When I first came to New Babbage, the start was a bit rocky. Not everyone trusted furries. Some weren't sure of my motives. It didn't help that Mr. Ashiko Kuroe, the Bunny Bomber, had just been terrorizing the town along with Doc O's army. The real life media was having a field day reporting wild rumors and out of context third party opinions about furries. That's died down a bit recently, thankfully. It took some convincing of some people, and I'm happy to say, those same people are now some of my closest friends in Babbage.

Now, not everyone who wears a furry avatar is a furry. Some just like to put on a costume and look like and even act like someone or something else, without it being a totemic representation of some innate characterization. Some take it quite seriously -- this is who they are. Some just want to dress up, and that's okay too! But ultimately, we are all reflections of ourselves, and we put on a face we choose to put on. Mine just happens to have purple fur, long ears, big feet, and a cottontail.

Thank you. I'm sure there are lots of questions!

Tali Rosca: I see it as little different from wanting to be Barbie or Machoman. It's just other attributes you want to highlight.
Blackberry Harvey: Yes, Tali, exactly.
Please raise your hand if you have a question.
Erica Fairywren raises a hand
Blackberry Harvey: Erica?
Erica Fairywren: thank you. how do you see the current acceptance of furries in New babbage and the steamlands in general?
Blackberry Harvey: To be honest, Babbage is more than enough for me to deal with! I'm not as up on society in the other steamlands as I could be... But here, I can say that it's been up and down as ever.
Erica Fairywren looks a bit sad at that. "Thank you."
Blackberry Harvey: A few months ago, there were some disruptive people in furry avatars in town, and opinions did retreat a little based on a few individuals. But that happens pretty much everywhere, to every group and classification of people that you can name.
Erica Fairywren: unfortunate that, a few bad eggs then?
Ceejay Writer: But you could say that about various facets - not just furries, correct?
Blackberry Harvey: Very much so, Erica, and Ceejay.
Ceejay Writer: though I think it's perhaps a bigger challenge for furries to stand up to.
Dr. Dinosaur Runner (doctordinosaur.runner): most the other steamlands from what I seen seem to have about as many furries as babbage, barring some of the stricter rp sims that don't even like scarred reanimated corpses, no idea about acceptance though
Jimmy Branagh: Not a question, but it seems that people who are into fantastical scenarios, literature, science/speculative fiction, SL RP sims etc are certainly a bit more tolerant about new things. It's obvious the safest place for an RL ET to locate a first contact would be a Star Trek convention.
Blackberry Harvey: All those articles and bad publicity and CSI episodes just focus on a few examples, not the larger picture.
Dr. Dinosaur Runner (doctordinosaur.runner): well, CSI made SL in general look pretty bad, or at least confusing, as well
Zanya: I think it's safe to say that anything goes in Steelhead. ^^
Tali Rosca: My experience is that the whole "fursecution", to use a somewhat sarcastic term, is really almost two years in the past.
Zanya: Ugh, Law & Order SVU wasn't much better.
Blackberry Harvey: Well, that all started with a furry convention, ConFurence 8, which was a shambles and dragged the public opinion of furry fandom into the gutter. We're just now really recovering...
Jimmy Branagh: Oy vaguely remember those but had nothing to do with tham
Blackberry Harvey: Did I get around to an answer for you, Erica?
Ceejay Writer: (Perhaps someday Vampires will overcome the Bloodlines stigma, too.)
Erica Fairywren: yes indeed :-) i guess i will have to see firsthand. thank you
Blackberry Harvey: In short, I think we're quite well accepted in the steamlands.
Blackberry Harvey: Maybe someone will do a talk on steamvamps next!
Tepic Harlequin: never found no problem in New Babbage, MisFairywren :-)
Erica Fairywren: i'm glad to hear that
Blackberry Harvey: Questions?
Sha'uri Cheshire-Angel (lianndraa.gothly): Nor i, in Caledon. :)
Jimmy Branagh: DO we still have any vampires in the steamlands?
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): Some in Winterfell.
Ceejay Writer: Quite a few, Jimmy.
Solace Fairlady: Mostly in New Toulouse, Jimmy
Tepic Harlequin: course, lots of new visitors look at me an say "you got a tail!", but that's just natural admiration....
Sidonie Ancelin (ancelin): I know one in Winterfell. A very nice young man.
Blackberry Harvey: They're jealous of your tail, Tepic
Wildstar: there are vampires in WInterfell
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): I will take that topic under advisement, danke. Especially if I can schedule it for an appropriate month.
Ceejay Writer: Blackberry - I have to personally thank you, as my concept of furs was apparently very shallow. Until today.
Blackberry Harvey: Oh? What did you learn? That we're really cute?
Tepic Harlequin: we got a long history!
Ceejay Writer: Historical backgrounds. Looking into ones self and reflecting ones nature in animal form.
Blackberry Harvey: I think if you take a look at your own bookshelves, you might be surprised!
Ceejay Writer: A creative way of expression.
Vic Mornington (victor1st.mornington): i just buy some furry avatars cause they look good...
Tali Rosca: Furries also tie in well with the concept of "anomalous characters"; characters straddling borderlines, which are classic archetypes.
Blackberry Harvey: Exactly, Vic puts them on because he likes the look! I put mine on because it expresses things about me.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): Caledon has a Lioness as its Vicereine. They had better not.
Solace Fairlady: Caledon has a longer history of fFurs than any other Steamland
Wildstar: most of the Caledon naval and air forces are furry these days
Blackberry Harvey: Good point, Tali, and yes, from what I've seen in Caledon, furries are very well integrated. Babbage has tended to be... not isolationist, but more conservative in acceptance of any newcomers. There's a shakedown first!
Erica Fairywren: ah that further answers what i was driving at
Ceejay Writer: nicely put Blackberry. Shakedown. *shakes head, laughing*
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): Heh, that is a good word.
Vic Mornington (victor1st.mornington): usually when it comes to putting buildings on the ground....but general visitors, theres quite a few regular one point half of the residents at brunel was furries, two of them went on to buy land in the city
Dr. Dinosaur Runner (doctordinosaur.runner): we rifle pockets for all your stuff , worse than Bump!
Blackberry Harvey: More questions or comments? Also, if you'd like to talk at length any time, just drop me an IM or come by the CocoaJava or Huxley Hall and chat. I have many opinions on the subject!
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): Any more questions? Fur styling queries? Attachment point debate?
Blackberry Harvey: Oh, attachment points... For those of us whose body parts are all prims, we are very thankful for multiple attachment slots!
Dr. Dinosaur Runner (doctordinosaur.runner): my disintegrator always knocks off my claws
Ceejay Writer: I can't even cope with trying to figure how you attach everything AND your clothes. *mind reels*
Blackberry Harvey: It's a struggle... I have a new admiration for women! Furry avatars also use quite a few scripts, so we do bump up the lag, quite noticeably if a lot of us are around. But I've seen some ball gowns that were even worse...
Blackberry Harvey: Final questions?
Oahu Planer (oahu.wijaya) raises hand
Blackberry Harvey: Oaho?
Blackberry Harvey: u?
Oahu Planer (oahu.wijaya): Hehe, u. Why purple, mista?
Blackberry Harvey: Blackberries!
Oahu Planer (oahu.wijaya): Ahhhhh, okie.
Blackberry Harvey: Actually, I can tell you my Babbage origin story sometime if you like...or you can read it in Tales of New Babbage! Available now where fine books about Babbage are sold
Ceejay Writer: Its a very good story and WELL worth buying the book!
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach (klauswulfenbach.outlander): Danke, Herr Harvey. You have been as excellent a guest as you have been an architect.

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