In 1997 film-maker Rick Castro discovered a wild kingdom of wanton costume enthusiasts who let their animal instincts take over in what was then considered a strange and sexy new way. Plushies and Furries, the documentary he made exploring the fuzzy fetish of dressing up like giant stuffed animals to socialize with others who do same (often for sexual purposes) was such an unknown phenomenon at the time that many believed he made the whole thing up, mockumentary style. But the 30 minute film was very real (even if the fur was faux) and it became a catalyst for exposing this hidden culture to the mainstream.
Plushies and Furries is the latest archival gem available for steaming via WOW Presents Plus, World of Wonder’s popular new subscription TV service, and it’s a fascinating insider view of a creative contingent that’s evolved and grown from a subversive sexual proclivity to a family-friendly fashion statement.
Introduced to furry fandom by a self-identified “furry artist,” Castro’s investigative approach and look at the community’s origin is fascinating. “Furry was one of the first communities to be created from online interaction,” says the LA-based director, who was inspired to document after attending his first ConFURence event, where fans and followers frequented. “Furry defined what would be happening a lot in the 21st century; subgroups meeting thru social media and the thrill of realizing they are not alone, bonding, eventually meeting in real time and creating new culture.”
Castro was the first person to document furry culture and present it via a mainstream platform. MTV, followed by HBO and channel 4UK in England all ran segments using Castro’s footage from the film, and soon, furry art exhibitions took place at revered locales and hot spots in LA including Hollywood’s Les Deux Cafes and Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica. It ultimately became, like S&M, part of everyone’s vernacular, even if the dirty details of it weren’t addressed much.
“When I attended my first furry events, (during 1998-2000) everybody identified as furry. There were no “mundanes,” [furry term for outsiders- non-furry people] and there were no journalists nor film crews covering the events,” he recalls. “After awhile there was a bombardment from the press and production companies.”
But no coverage captures the complex essence of the subculture the way this World of Wonder production does. The film provides a voyeuristic-style delving into what drives plushie enthusiasts to wear furry costumes and some of the reasons are obvious— the tactile aspects (petting is fun to do and receive), the nostalgia aspect (we all had a ‘lovey’ we carried around didn’t we?), and maybe most importantly, the fantasy element, wherein one is able to escape from “normal” daily existence with costume (it’s understandable why the P&F’s call the outside world “mundanes”).
Cosplay has of course, almost totally transcended any carnal origins. Thanks to Comic-Con, anime and super-hero nerd-dom, dress-up in all forms -even somewhat weird ones- is considered a conventional form of expression. Plushies and furries have always come from all walks of life, though Castro says a lot of them work the entertainment industry, many for companies known for more juvenile fare- Disney, Hannah Barbara, etc. While many kept it a secret as recently as 20 years ago, the mainstreaming of the scene has changed things. For many cosplayers it’s just more whimsical get-up in the closet these days.
“Furry has become co-opted, intersected, morphed and mainstreamed like every other cultural movement,” muses Castro, who currently works with the Tom of Finland Foundation, hosting weekly tea salons and fetishistic book clubs, and writes about culture and politics via his Antebellum Gallery Blog.
The wooly wonderland Castro and World of Wonder first exposed decades ago has evolved and shifted focus a lot, but like many of WOW’s early productions, Plushies & Furries captures and uncovers it before it was commonplace, providing a fascinating investigative snapshot of its sexy, extra-sensory history that is anything but fluff.