Thanks to the popularity of shows like The Masked Singer and Love Is Blind, there’s been an explosion of content in the genre that can best be summarized as “people hiding their faces and doing things.” The latest entry is Netflix’s Sexy Beasts, a dating show in which the contestants don prosthetics and makeup to conceal their faces, the trailer for which dropped on social media Wednesday:
— Netflix (@netflix) June 23, 2021
The trailer prompted an outpouring of both mirth and genuine discomfort on social media, where many delighted in the weirdness of the prosthetics and moments like a man dressed as a beaver dramatically intoning, “Ass first, personality second.” But there was one community in particular that garnered a lot of attention: furries, with many commenting that the trailer seemed to be borrowing the community’s singular aesthetic. “How am I supposed to explain a dolphin and beaver kissing to my children. The furry agenda needs to be stopped,” one person jokingly tweeted, while another chimed in: “I did not need to know there was a furry dating show coming out.” The trailer garnered so much attention that “furries” even briefly trended on Twitter this afternoon.
To be clear, Sexy Beasts isn’t actually a “furry dating show,” so much as a traditional dating show that appears to have been spearheaded by a bunch of RISD seniors who spent a lot of time getting high and watching The Dark Crystal on repeat. (Rolling Stone reached out to Netflix for comment regarding what, if any, influence the furry community had on the show’s development, and will update if we hear back.)
But members of the furry community themselves said that the furry fandom’s influence on Sexy Beasts seems evident, down to the very conceit of the show. Furries often get to know each other rather well without ever knowing what they look like, often only knowing them via their fursonas/avatars,” says Kaide, a furry 3D artist. “Myself, I’ve had a romantic partner in the past who I got involved with having never seen their actual face. The show reminded me of a lot of the dynamics of furry friendships and relationships, [which] are made on personality as opposed to what the person looks like.”
The prosthetics used in the trailer aren’t explicitly furry-inspired — they’re more naturalistic, as opposed to furry costumes, which tend to be “a person’s own representation of that animal, with colors that don’t often match or highly stylized designs,” says Kaide. A. Szabla, an artist who makes content for the furry community, agrees. “Fursuits tend to be very personal to the folks who wear them and are sort of an outward expression of their personality,” they say. “The masks in the show are definitely just meant to hide a face and don’t seem to have anything to do with the person themselves, so it really is a very different function.”
Sexy Beasts’ aesthetic does seem to be pulling somewhat from the furry fandom, which is not uncommon in mainstream pop culture, says SemJay, a furry and the founder of furry adult toy company Lycantasy. SemJay cites the enormous popularity of anthropomorphic costume-heavy shows like Masked Singer as an example. “I could see the rise of furry dance competitions and the increasing presence of furries performing on YouTube and TikTok being an inspiration for some of those things,” he says.
Despite the apparent influence of furry fandom culture on pop culture phenomena, however, furries are rarely consulted to provide input for such projects, even when they deal directly with furry-related topics, such as an infamous (in the furry community, at least) CSI episode dealing with the fandom. “I’m sure there was a little bit of influence from the furry fandom” on Sexy Beasts, says SemJay. “Probably not a lot of input from us though, which is typical.”
That lack of input has led some furries on social media to accuse the producers of Sexy Beasts of co-opting aspects of the furry community, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way: “Y’all have no room to make fun of furries now when this is on Netflix,” said one, while another wrote: “this is furry appropriation and I won’t stand on 4 legs for it.” Yet the furries Rolling Stone spoke with aren’t offended by whatever influence the fandom may have had on the show. “It just cracks me up to see all these ‘swing and a miss’ type shows,” says SemJay. “As long as they’re not actively encouraging hate or violence toward the furry fandom then I don’t mind.”