50 Years of Influence

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In 1996, Mattel released this Barbie and Ken set to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek. These were the first dolls I remember longing for.

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I went to see Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the show and this production was, essentially, an array of selected clips from the shows and movies projected on a giant theater screen while a live orchestra played iconic Trek music. For me, this was a very moving experience. For an idea of what this was, I’d like to share this video put together by benandbarry on Youtube (I’m very impressed by the smooth transition in editing here, this is actually multiple pieces of the production spliced together):

Star Trek was something that I grew up with. My father was a Trekkie and would always watch it, pointing out the ways in which science fiction has a habit of becoming science fact. The Next Generation (TNG) first aired in 1987, when I was only 2 years old. With the quick succession of TNG, Deep Space Nine (DS9), and Voyager, you could say I literally grew up with it. While the major drawing factor for my father was the technology, I was drawn in and deeply affected by the rich social and philosophical lessons the episodes and films had to offer. These lessons helped to guide me and shape my worldview. There were two characters in particular that I looked up to:

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Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Mr. Spock. Picard’s words of wisdom and diplomacy modeled the kind of person, the kind of leader I longed, still long to be. He was firm and fair. He took his commanding role seriously but without being power driven. He lead by example, respected order and law but did not falter in instances where that order and law worked to the detriment of the populace. In his words, “the claim ‘I was only following orders’ has been used to justify too many tragedies in our history. Starfleet doesn’t want officers who will blindly follow orders without analyzing the situation” (Redemption II, 1991). There was an excellent piece written by Alex Knapp in Forbes in 2012 that does a great job capturing the ways in which Picard was a great leader.

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Mr. Spock’s intellect, logic, and, most importantly, control over his emotions, were characteristics that I wanted for myself. During the often turbulent years of my childhood, and even during trying times of my adulthood, I would have given anything to maintain the calm and emotion-free state of a Vulcan. But Spock was not fully Vulcan, he was half Human. Because of this, there are times during which you can see him grappling with emotions that, I wager, present themselves more strongly within him than within a full Vulcan. “I have a human half, you see, as well as an alien half… I survive it because my intelligence wins out over both…” (The Enemy Within, 1966).

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Halloween 1997. Seeking to emulate both of these role models as a TNG era Vulcan Captain.

With a nod to the roots of this blog, I feel I would be remiss if I neglected the wardrobe. Yes, I own an array of Star Trek tshirts (you can read a previous bit about tshirts here) and I also own a uniform inspired hoodie complete with insignia and rank pips. In the film, First Contact, Picard says to Data, “…touch can connect you to an object in a very personal way. It makes it seem more real.”  Indeed, in a similar way, wearing that uniform-hoodie does make me feel a certain connection to these characters and those traits that I admire. And is it any surprise that one of the first outfits I made for my Lammily doll was a Starfleet uniform?

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Image Consciousness

Warning: Streams of Consciousness Ahead; Author is blogging
before bed after a long day, Thoughts may be jumbled.

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     When I woke up yesterday afternoon and weighed myself, I was 142 lbs. I was kind of happy about it and felt I deserved some hard won take out pizza. (Papa John’s 3 Cheese, if anyone cares) I posted about this on Facebook, along with debating whether or not it was “worth it” to get said pizza. Among the comments I got was one from a friend (straight, male) which inferred that I am already “sexy”. The intention behind this was all positive, I assure you, he’s a pretty solid friend (and I hope I’m not making you feel bad by discussing it in my blog, I actually want to thank you for bringing up an important topic). However, as well meaning as he was, it made me start thinking –

  • What is really motivating me to be on this diet? Am I in it for health reasons or something else? Can’t I have multiple motivators? Is my motivation any different now than it was at any time when I tried to do the gym thing before?
  • Does it matter whether someone else finds me physically attractive? Is it inherently anti-feminist to feel good about a non-skeevy compliment like this? Should I even give my boyfriend any influence on how I look – I obviously want *him* to find my attractive?
  • Do I care about how I look? Is there something wrong about admitting that I care? Does that make me shallow or vain now?

Then, after admitting to myself that, yes, I am partially motivated by wanting a particular image, my mind wandered even more –

  • In 2012 when the boyfriend wanted me to go to the gym with him (and yes, saying I could be “more toned”), I stubbornly refused (and was moderately offended, because I already felt I looked good, wtf?). So why did I start going to the gym pretty hardcore last year (I mean, I was doing the personal trainer thing, I thought that was hardcore. For a woman that nearly flunked PE in High School, that was hardcore).  How much of that was me and how much was because of a one time off-hand comment? Does the fact that I even remember the comment signify that it carried any weight (no pun intended)?
  • A large part of my motivation was general health – wanting to avoid health issues my parents have and realizing I had a more sedentary life that I’d had in 2012 (I did tell my trainer that I was mostly just working off my pizza addiction since I wasn’t doing it at work anymore). Is this considered wanting to lose weight? Or maintain it?
  • In reality, a large part of my motivation was fangirling over Stephen Amell as Green Arrow and wanting to emulate him (I never did finish that series on emulation I meant to do a few years back, did I?). Watching Oliver Queen work a salmon ladder over and over and watching Amell’s personal workout videos on Facebook really kind of made me want to be badass like him. I wore his “Fuck Cancer” tshirt to the gym a lot of the time and bought the Arrow soundtrack to listen to.

  • Then last year, I also got my Lammily doll, which sent me on my dolly craze. And I got pulled into internet battles over whether or not dolls contributed to body image issues. Of course I’m going to fully defend and champion my precious Lammily! I don’t know how much dolls influence these things, but if there is a chance she can help some kids, isn’t that a good thing? And what is wrong with some dolly diversity?
  • Is it possible that I’ve been influenced myself this past year from all the dolls and all of these things I’ve been made aware of because of this new found hobby? Even if that were the case, why would that be any more shameful or wrong than admitting I was driven to the gym because I wanted to emulate a comic hero?
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The day Stephen Amell actually responded to one of my comments and gave me encouragement. Made me feel a bit self-defeated when I needed to quit going to the gym due to too many other things going on in life that needed my attention. Still need to reach that pull-up goal. 

I really don’t know. It’s likely a mix of everything, honestly. At the end of the day, though, whatever my motivations, I am making a decision about my life and my body because it is what I want. As long as I am comfortable with and feel good about myself, that is all that matters.

Emulation: Part 2

What is a furry?

Trying to define exactly what is furry is actually quite an undertaking, despite my familiarity with the subject. You see, furries and the furry fandom are quite complex. From a very basic standpoint, a furry is an anthropomorphic animal, either a human dressed as an animal or an artistic representation of an animal taking on somewhat human characteristics (sometimes –but not always – bipedalism, speech, primate-like hands, etc). From this definition, Mickey Mouse would be considered a furry, as would the guy dressed as the Easter Bunny in the mall every spring. However, it’s not quite that simple. The furry fandom (the over-arching community of people who consider themselves furry, or who appreciate furry art) isn’t even in total agreement as to exactly just what constitutes a “furry” and what is just some guy in a bunny suit.

The Costume

When you look into the wardrobe of the furry community, you’ll find a wide range of selections from a fursuit that covers the entire body and face, to a simple collar. As aspects of furry culture enter the mainstream culture (mostly by way of anime), it is becoming more common to see people wearing mittens that look like paws or hats with ears on them. (In fact, I believe one of the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch books has a pattern for knitted cat ear hats.) However, as these elements become more acceptable and more mainstream, is it still “furry”?

My friend, Emily, in a knitted hat with cat ears. Yes, she made that 🙂

A Shared Culture

It seems to me, that what really sets apart a furry from a mall employee in a bunny suit, is a shared culture or sub-culture. Tygerwolfe, the author of Furry Logic (source 5), did some Freshman level ethnography of sorts on “Prancing Skiltaire” furries. Noting the demographics, she found most of the group (whose human forms could be visibly observed) were Caucasian and males predominated. In asking some of the furries why they chose to become furries, the responses were along the lines of respect for/ wanting to emulate their chosen animal and wanting to not be human for awhile. Indeed, being a furry allows for actions such as nuzzling or grooming which are inappropriate as a human, but are perfectly acceptable while one is “in character”. I can definitely see the allure of this… even as humans we have a need to feel loved and accepted, and physical closeness/ touch can be hard to find in everyday life sometimes. Several of the furries she interviewed also stated that they dressed as their chosen animal to feel closer to it somehow.

Mental Shifts

A mental shift is simply what the name implies, your mind shifts focus.  As Vexen Crabtree (author of source 3) points out, a mental shift itself is a normal thing, “Rugby players performing a dance before a game are enticing a mental shift. Some football fans hype themselves up to the extent that they undergo a mental shift whilst attending a game. Certain forms of martial art train and entice adherents to perform mental shifts during meditation or training…” In this context, the shift is from the human self to the animal (furry) self. There is a large overlap of furries and therians (people who feel such a deep connection to their animal that the animal is a part of who they are, or that they harness the animal’s spirit or power – similar in concept to having a spirit guide, but slightly different) and so, for some, becoming furry can be a near spiritual exercise.

In Closing/ Food for Thought

I first became acquainted with the term “furry” around 2005. I was looking up pictures of foxes (I’ve always been fascinated with them… they’re just gorgeous creatures) and chanced upon the artwork of Justin Pearce. Though, in a sense, I’ve been drawn to furries since I was a small child, long before I even really knew what they were. I can remember, as a very little girl, pretending I was cat. I used to try to curl up and sleep on the arm or back of the couch like our cats did. I would lick the back of my hand to wash my face and try to have conversations in cat-speak with our cats, as if I had some inter-special link to them that no one else had. Many children, actually, mimic animals as part of play. Even as adults, animals still hold importance and power for us. The Ranting Gryphon (source 4) wrote an interesting post that discusses the use of animals as symbols/ communication/ language. He cites company and team names incorporating animals in the names:

Without our animal symbols, the Miami Dolphins would be the Miami Intelligent-Yet-Very-Quick-And-Elegants. You would no longer own a Ford Mustang. It would be a Ford Wild-Majestic-And-Powerful. We use animals to capture the essence of their character in our communication, and in doing so, we add a fanciful and whimsical flair to our society and our human world.

He has a good point. Animals do carry cultural significance and symbolism/ connotations, so many that we would come up lacking if we erased them from our lives. It also makes sense considering how important animals have been to us in the past. Animals were the central subject matter of cave paintings, some of the earliest gods were animals, or part animal-part human. From a certain standpoint, furry-ism, if you will, is really just a re-boot of some very old concepts.

Sources

1) Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furry_fandom

2) PeterCat’s Furry InfoPage.  http://www.tigerden.com/~infopage/furry/

3) An Intimate Exploration of Furry Fandom.  http://www.humantruth.info/furry.html

4) The Ranting Gryphon. http://ranting-gryphon.com/Information/whatisfurry.htm

5) Anthropology 100 – Furry Logic. http://www.tygerwolfe.com/?page_id=344

6) Furry Psychology 101: Types of Furry. http://skuffcoyote.livejournal.com/70336.html

Emulation: Part 1

As promised, the subject of this segment is the use of ritual animal dress in shaman practices/ animistic culture. In trying to find reference material (which elaborates upon the basic information I already know while adding credibility to my writing), I have made a frustrating observation: With so many New Age-y pages on shamanism/ animism, it’s hard to find good, legitimate sources on the topic. ::headdesk::   Also, my apologies in that I was a little later getting this posted than I had intended. Life happens.

"Yupik masks made the invisible visible. They are the physical representations of encounters with the spirit world. Spiritual leaders design the masks to represent beings they have seen while in a trance. Every element and motif of a mask has a special purpose, the meaning of which is known only to the creator of the mask." (7)

There are rich histories of shamans the world over. Even in today’s world shamans still exist, although a lot of traditional practices are dying out – The last shaman of the Oroqen  people died in 2000 (4). While there are differences in rituals, beliefs and practices between the different communities, it is a general rule,

Haida Shaman Mask

that animal costume served to connect to the spirit world, through the power of the animal. It is also generally the shaman who has the ability to perform such rituals (but this is not always the case, there are some non-shaman rituals during which participants dress up).

The Pacific Northwest

The native peoples of the Pacific Northwest (Kwakiutl, Tlingit, Haida) carved elaborate masks. Some of the masks look like human faces, but they represent supernatural beings. Others are clan totem animal

masks. These masks were worn during ceremonies and

Wolf Dancer.

rituals by trained dancers and storytellers. One of the important rituals was the potlatch. The potlatch was held for special occasions such as marriages, births, rites of passage, funerals, etc. These were essentially large gift giving ceremonies where there would be food, singing and dancing. Often there would be dancers dressed in regalia, which included the intricately carved and painted masks, such as the wolf dancer in the photo to the left. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Canadian and American governments banned and outlawed the potlatch ceremonies. These bans were only repealed as recently as 1951 (11).

Siberia

For the indigenous peoples of Siberia, such as the Orochon and the Yukaghir, the reindeer was an important part of life. In fact, the name “Orochon” actually means “reindeer people”.  The reindeer provided fur and meat, they pulled sleds and were even entrusted with carrying small children and babies. It was also the skin of the reindeer that the shaman wore, along with the antlers in some tribes. I’ve also read that the coat is made to represent a bird skin, so that the shaman can fly (10). Perhaps as a sign of the importance the role the shaman played in Yukaghir culture, upon death, his body was dismembered and a part given to each member of his clan (10).  Today, while shamanism is still practiced in the region, it is no longer as wide spread. Reindeer are still a part of life, and some tribesmen have taken up breeding domesticated reindeer.

Yukaghir Shaman Clothes. I have read that the skin is that of a reindeer, but I have also read that the skin is to be like that of a bird so the shaman can fly.

Hokkaido

For most of this post, I have been looking at instances where humans take on animal form. There is, however, one case I have come across where the opposite is true from a spiritual standpoint. For the Ainu (an indigenous people of Hokkaido), animal deities look and behave the way humans do when they are in their own realm. When these deities come to the human realm, they come disguised so as to bring gifts of meat and fur. (8)

Another interesting tidbit I learned while reading up on Ainu shamanism that I was not previously aware of:

Among the Hokkaidō Ainu, shamanism is not highly regarded and shamans are usually women, who collectively have lower social status than men. The Hokkaidō Ainu shaman also enters a possession trance, but she does so only if a male elder induces it in her by offering prayers to the deities. Although she too diagnoses illnesses, male elders take over the healing process. Male elders must consult a shaman before they make important decisions for the community. In other words, the politically powerful male cannot even declare a war without consulting the shaman—an intriguing cultural mechanism to balance formalized and nonformalized power. (8)

The Eagle Dance

My personal favorite occasion in which people don animal dress is the Eagle Dance. When I was a very young girl, my Grandfather used to take me to powwows. The part I always loved the most were the dances.. especially Eagle Dance, because of all the pretty feathers and how the dancer always looked so grand with his wings outstretched.  Eagle Dance isn’t specific to any one tribe, as the eagle held deep importance for many Native Americans.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and while doing the reading for this entry, I came across other aspects of indigenous wardrobes that I would like to look into in depth sometime, such as Chilkat blankets. Not wanting to tangent from topic, I will have to remind myself to come back to it later. (Tangential researching, another factor in not having this posted on time, lol)  In Part 2, I will be discussing Furries.

Sources

1. Shamans and Shamanism. http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/Shamans.htm

2. Canada’s First Peoples. http://firstpeoplesofcanada.com

3. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animism

4. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamanism_in_Siberia

5. The History of the Eagle Dance. http://www.brownielocks.com/eagledance.html

6. Support Native American Art: Northwest Coast Masks. http://www.support-native-american-art.com/northwest-coast-masks.html

7. The Glenbow Museum.http://www.glenbow.org/collections/museum/native/inuit.cfm

8. Ainu-Religion and Expressive Culture. http://www.everyculture.com/East-Southeast-Asia/Ainu-Religion-and-Expressive-Culture.html

9. Sakha Open World. http://www.sakhaopenworld.org/sd/shaman_eng.html

10. The Yukaghir and the Yukaghirized Tungus. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/aa.1929.31.1.02a00200/pdf

11. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potlatch

Emulation: Introduction

Last night, I was watching one of my favorite movies, Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. I always loved the Indiana Jones movies as a child.. indeed, Indy was a role model of sorts for me during my formative years, and is still very much a personal hero. (How else do you think I got interested in Anthropology? LOL)

My Hero, Indiana Jones

Anyhow, as I was watching Indy travel through the jungle and narrowly escape being crushed to death, I couldn’t help but think to myself: I want his outfit. This is not the first time I have thought this to myself..  in fact a few years back I spent hours looking into just where his outfit came from. What company made his jacket? Where can you get an authentic looking hat? What dye combination is needed to make a white button up shirt look that dingy tan/grey color?

Then my mind springboarded from that and I started asking myself why I wanted to dress like him.. Or why, for that matter, does anyone want to emulate someone or something else? We see it all the time in advertisements.. we use big name celebrities to market this product or that because we know that the fans will buy said product in order to emulate their hero. Indeed, the only time I have ever spent over $100 on a pair of shoes was for just such a reason – I bought a pair of Nike Shox because I was obsessed with House, and those are the shoes he wears. (They were actually very good shoes, and while my motivation for purchasing them may have been misguided, I don’t entirely regret the purchase.)

If you follow Japanese fashion (or even just contemporary Japanese culture) at all, you might be familiar with Cosplay: generally, dressing up as a character from an anime or manga. Perhaps you’ve even heard of furries – anthropomorphic animal cartoons/ a person incorporating an animal into his/her cosplay attire?  I’m willing to bet money, if you know what I’m talking about, this is all pretty normal to you.. you may even be a LARPer. If not, you’re going to learn all about it in upcoming blogs (Come to the Nerd Side!). You may even be shocked to learn (if you’re not already aware) that this strange practice is centuries old. Yes.. people have been dressing up as animals for hundreds of years. Yes, I’m talking about animism and shamans here folks – hard core anthropology fodder.  And it is with the shamans that I will begin my investigation into the significance of emulation in fashion and culture next week.