Like the penguins who return annually to their same South American burrows, more than 7,000 anthropomorphically enthused participants migrated back to David L. Lawrence Convention Center last weekend for Anthrocon, “Pittsburgh’s premiere furry convention” for those who like to dress in anthropomorphic costume. Such gatherers, who flock from nearby areas and states as well as international locales, have descended on Pittsburgh for the past 13 years.
Joining the herd was Brian Harris, a Jewish Virginian who has been a part of Anthrocon since its start.
“I’m one of a small group of people who helped put together Anthrocon back in 1997 when it started in Albany, N.Y., as the result of a house party that got too large for someone’s basement,” he said. “It moved to a hotel and has grown into what it is today, moving from Albany to outside Philadelphia to inside Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, which is currently its very beloved home at this point.”
Harris serves as Anthrocon’s director of fundraising and charity work, a position that he has held “from the very beginning.”
“I enjoy doing this because it’s such a fulfilling thing to do,” he noted.
Over the years, through auctions, raffles and other methods, Anthrocon has raised more than $310,000 dollars for various charities, said Karl “Xydexx” Jorgensen, the organization’s overseer of publications.
In years past, the convention has partnered with the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, the Western PA Humane Society and the National Aviary. This year, Anthrocon supported South Hills Pet Rescue, a largely volunteer run space committed to “rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming dogs of all breeds, with all needs, since 2013.”
The charities are typically animal related “because that dovetails most appropriately with our event and what people are fans of here,” said Harris.
Anthropomorphism, which Harris described as “a hybrid of animals with human traits or humans with animal traits,” appears “in all sorts of media” from television to literature throughout history.
“Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness,” an animated tale following Po the Dragon Warrior and his friends, was billed as the “top anthropomorphic animal TV series” by IMDb, a site self-described as “the world’s most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content,” and even nominated for a 2013 primetime Emmy award.
Similarly, “Animal Farm,” George Orwell’s allegory, was selected by Time as one of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.
Even as far back as the Egyptians, one can find meritorious carvings and fascinations with anthropomorphism, noted Harris.
The Egyptian god Anubis is commonly depicted as a man with a jackal head or simply as a canine, and the Egyptian god Horus typically appears as a royal man with the head of a hawk or falcon.
Anthropomorphism in all its manifestations is truly of interest to the thousands of “fans, writers, artists and imaginative people” who frequent Anthrocon, said the director.
And while fur suiters “may be the most recognizable part of the convention, only 20 percent of Anthrocon’s attendees wear costumes,” echoed Jorgensen.
“There used to be multiuser groups or chat rooms where you could create environments and such of various connected chat rooms, which were themed and people could go online and create a character for themselves and basically do a chat room but act as their characters,” he added. “That developed over time into various things like Second Life and other much more technological ways of communicating with each other.”
What Anthrocon represents to many members of the community is an opportunity to connect in person after having met online. The real life refuge provides a venue much like a designated space would for those who gather to play certain games or for others who coalesce for shared interests, such as sports or movies, explained the director.
“Attendees of all ages come to Anthrocon from as far away as Germany, Australia and Japan to attend workshops and seminars, buy and sell artwork, exhibit costumes and socialize with their fellow fans,” said Harris.
What people should realize is that “the community is not a closed insular click,” he added. “We are open to anybody who thinks any of this stuff might be interesting, might be cool…We’re everybody who is interested in this.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.