The art in question.
The art in question.

I’ve never seen a group of people so unanimously in agreement as the furry fandom as they expressed collective dismay over Lindsay Lohan shilling for canine NFTs.

In case you missed the news last week: Lindsay Lohan — yes, the actress — tweeted that she’s teaming up with a company called Canine Cartel that mass-generated 10,000 drawings of anthropomorphic dogs and is now selling them on an NFT marketplace. On Friday, Lohan tweeted a drawing of … I guess it’s meant to be her? As a dog? … which sold at auction for around $4,700.

So what’s the problem? Well, furries have for the last few decades created and stewarded an entire culture around anthropomorphic art, and their sensitive noses can smell disaster all over this project.

“There are three or four big reasons that made this a perfect storm of bad ideas,” says Dr. Courtney Plante, an associate professor of psychology at Bishops University and cofounder of FurScience, a team of scientists who study the furry fandom.

For one thing, he says, furries tend to be environmentalists, and the energy inefficiency of NFTs makes them particularly unattractive to the fandom.

But beyond that, he says, within the fandom there’s a taboo around “the idea of creating a fursona purely for selling it off... it would be like, ‘can I buy your name off of you?’”

Within the fandom, few things are as sacrosanct as fursonas — that is, the roles that one inhabits when interacting with others, or even just when imagining oneself. Think about the care that we all tend to take when setting up any social media account, or dating profile, or a post; we’re all wearing some form of drag when we’re online, and furries have developed strong social norms around fursonas.

For example, choosing a species, a look, and a name is recognized as a particularly personal act. Crediting artists is mandatory. Stealing someone else’s fursona is unthinkable. The idea of buying a fursona on a whim is completely baffling. In part, that’s because fursonas are typically imbued with numerous small indicators of personal significance, Dr. Plante says — details like jewelry or markings on the fur.

Lohan’s fursona is notably lacking in the traits that furries expect. Being available for purchase is perhaps its most “antithetical” quality, Plante says; but there are other indications that it was made by a non-furry artist. It lacks ears and a tail, which is extremely unusual for a canine fursona; there are no distinctive details, markings, or adornments; no artist is identified; it looks like the base body in a character-creator.

“It’s sort of like if I was to go online and buy a cheaply-made Star Trek uniform and then go to a convention like, 'I’m one of you guys,’” Plante says.

Furries have been trained by bitter experience to beware of cultural interlopers. When the internet first gained widespread adoption in the '90s, the fandom was targeted for frequent mockery and abuse, and furries quickly learned that outsiders tended not to have the community’s best interests at heart: an MTV documentary called Sex2K portrayed the furries in a particularly unflattering light, and a notorious episode of CSI got virtually every detail about the community wrong.

Nearly two decades later, furries still cite those episodes as reasons to be suspicious of mainstream culture. The fandom is deeply sensitive to negative portrayals, and it’s not hard to understand why: imagine if the harmless thing you love made you a subject of constant derision, and then some piece of mass media aimed a giant spotlight on you while getting all of the details completely wrong.

And that’s one reason for the dismay over Canine Cartel. The company (run by a Toronto-based advertising copywriter named Jackson Kemp) appears to have created its 10,000 dog images by machine; all of them share a handful of bodies mixed with a variety of randomly repeating accessories. This isn’t an organization with any apparent connection to the fandom, or experience with its culture. Instinctively, furries can tell that this newcomer has less in common with them than with CSI — and that’s a problem for a community where adherence to unwritten norms ensure that everyone gets along.

But I doubt that Canine Cartel has any interest in getting along with the fandom. Kemp declares on his site, “I love advertising. I hate rules.” This project seems to have blended both passions. The partnership with Lohan and the antagonizing of furries have probably accumulated far more attention than any the ads for Subaru that Kemp works on in his day job. It’s a PR win for him; and a PR morass for the fandom.

Sure, it’s not as bad as the MTV and CSI episodes. But it still leaves a bad impression — that a fursona’s nothing more than a commodity — and leaves open a door to future speculation by other outsiders who are similarly disinterested in participating in the fandom’s decades-old social norms.