It features contestants looking for love in an array of larger-than-life animal masks, kissing through prosthetics and generally looking like the weirdest ‘blind date’ show we’d ever seen. You probably saw the clip, you were probably a little terrified – and the chances are you were probably intrigued too.
As the clip explained, Sexy Beasts is a reality dating series which aims to encourage singletons to look beyond appearances by having all the participants transformed using make-up and prosthetics.
The costumes seen on the show have provoked an awful lot of discussion online. It’s been accused by some of exploiting the community and playing members of the subculture known as the Furry community for laughs – and some really aren’t happy.
But what exactly is the furry community? And who are they?
‘The Furry community are people who are fans or who identify fascinated with anthropomorphic animals,’ says Joe Strike, author of Furry Nation and prominent spokesperson for the community.
‘That can be anything from cartoon animals to cartoon characters. It can be storybook characters like Peter Rabbit, to talking dragons and fantasy animals,’ he added.
Furries have risen in popularity hugely over the last few decades, having first emerged as an organised fandom in the 70s and 80s, and it attracts a hugely varied cross section of people.
‘It is such a massive subculture, that there’s a huge amount of variety and diversity,’ added Katharine Gathes, who is the author of Deviant Desires and the curator of KINK: Geography of the Erotic Imagination at Museum of Sex, New York.
The show’s trailer has attracted a lot of attention online (Picture: Netflix)
‘It is a subculture which has a higher proportion of non-white people than some other subcultures and a high proportion of gay, trans and non-binary people. Because it’s a very, very open culture and you feel welcome no matter who or what you are.’
While it’s not specifically billed as a furry show, Joe for one believes the makers of Sexy Beasts clearly knew what they were doing when evoking the subculture in the recent trailer.
‘I think [the makers of the show] are not coming out explicitly and saying furry, but I think they know there’s an awareness,’ he adds. ‘I think they’re trying to piggyback on that without coming out at themselves and saying the “F word”’.
Sexy Beasts arrives on Netflix this week (Picture: PA)
We’ll have to wait to see how members react to the programme, but watching the show, it’s perhaps easy to see how some passionate furs could be offended by it all.
The very first line of the first episode sees narrator Rob Delaney say: ‘When it comes to dating, we all go for looks first. So on this show, everyone looks as weird as possible.’
While it might seem insensitive, it turns out the furry community don’t mind being called ‘weird’ all.
‘I really don’t have a problem with weird,’ says Joe, ‘because it also means creative, imaginative and different from everyone. So I don’t look at it as a pejorative myself.’
While it may appeal to many furs, Joe’s biggest concern is the seemingly random nature of the masks chosen for contestants – as furries carefully cultivate their own looks to reflect their personality.
‘The reaction has been pretty negative already to tell you the truth, just based on the trailer,’ he said.
‘[The masks we wear] are like expressions of our personalities, or an alternate personality that we like to adopt from time to time. Unless there’s something in the show, I think those masks are totally chosen totally at random. I’d be surprised if there’s any effort to correlate what head they put on them to the person’s personality,’ he said.
With the series bringing the furry community to a bigger audience, inadvertently or not, Katharine believes there will inevitably be a mixed reaction.
The trailer has been met with scepticism online (Picture: PA)
‘They’re hyper sensitive about misrepresentation,’ she said. ‘So if they sense that the people who are doing this aren’t themselves free, they wouldn’t have a right to pretend in some way to be part of the furry community.
‘There are some people who are going to say, “This is great, we’re going mainstream. Finally, people will understand why we’re like this, this is wonderful.” Or, there are people who are going to say, “Here we are, being misrepresented yet again.”‘
It’s true that members of the community are going into the series with trepidation – Joe, for one, is worried about misrepresentation and explains that the majority of the misconceptions about the community arise when focusing purely on the sexual side of the subculture.
‘For a lot of people, yes, it’s a form of sexual self expression,’ Joe said. ‘But that is not what the fandom is about. For most people, it’s just a fun hobby, or they really have an identification with anthropomorphic beings. There’s all sorts of ways of being a furry.’
Sexy Beasts is available to watch on Netflix.
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