Mar 142024

The notorious “Fur and Loathing” (aired October 30, 2003) episode of CSI is supposed to be about the furry subculture, but it actually demonstrates the investigative procedural’s particular view of sexuality and identity.

A routine traffic accident leads Grissom and Willows to what they at first think is a coyote but is actually a dead man in a raccoon fur suit. This leads to PAFCon (Plushies and Furries Convention), which the deceased, Robert Pitt, attended.

At the convention, Grissom attends a lecture (apparently the only person in the room in regular clothes). The speaker (also in a fursuit) references Erik Erikson’s Eight Ages of Man and says:

“Birth is not destiny. And a human form doesn’t always come with a human spirit.”

Grissom and Willows learn about “skritching” and “yiffing”, and eventually decide to take in some of the fur fans for questioning, as their fur suits match traces found on Robert Pitt’s fur suit.

[Three “furs” are taken to the CSI team]
Bud Simmons: Hello, this is racial profiling?
C.S.I. Willows: Huh, we’re gonna need samples of your… fur.
C.S.I. Grissom: We’ll also need to talk to you without your masks on.
[Two furs take their mask of]
Bud Simmons: I don’t.
C.S.I. Willows: You have a problem with that?
Bud Simmons: You wouldn’t ask a human lady to take her make-up off. If you want to talk to me, this is the “me” you’re gonna talk to.

Another person in interrogation says, borrowing language from gay and trans identity:

“. . . she helped me become . . . who I am. I always knew that I was a – something else – and Linda made it real.”

19th century detective fiction, e.g. the Sherlock Holmes stories, was about observing minute details of a person’s body and attire to determine their profession, class, nationality, etc; in other words, to make them legible. (The inverse of this is Holmes’ talent for disguise.) CSI and other forensic procedural fiction inherited and extended this tradition: study the body and its interactions with the physical environment, and you would know its motivations and behavior.

CSI’s ongoing fascination with subcultures, particularly sexual subcultures, is a way of challenging and reaffirming this principle. In “Fur”, the CSIs encounter people who have, in effect, created or acquired new bodies that reflect their inner sense of identity, which may be quite different from their “birth” body. Bud Simmons’ furry persona is “Sexy Kitty”, a female blue cat, while Bud is apparently a cis man. (CSI S15E08 “Rubbery Homicide” returns to this theme with a story involving rubber female suits.) Furthermore, Bud defies any easy categorization as “trans/cis”, “gay/straight”, etc. He is unintelligible.

Robert Pitt’s death was ultimately the result of a series of unlikely accidents, and his furry identity is only one part of that. While CSI as usual professes the values of objectivity and rationalism (personified in Grissom), the episode includes shots of the “fur pile” party in a closed room at the convention, which uses dissonant music and oversaturated lighting to give a nightmarish effect. The comedy comes from Grissom and Willows’ reactions to the convention, contrasting Grissom’s deadpan acceptance with Willow’s nervous judgment.

WikiFur, the furry encyclopedia, has a page on the episode and the fandom’s response to it. Some objected, others shrugged it off. One blogger, Ursula Vernon, wrote that it was the job of commercial television to be sensational.

Because a bunch of weirdos in costumes writhing around to porno music is waaaaay better for the ratings than an hour of slightly geeky people in T-shirts with wolves on them arguing about whether the Lion King was a better movie than Watership Down

Note: “Fur” was written by Jerry Stahl, who has a history of writing transgressive episodes for CSI, including the introduction of Lady Heather, and the “King Baby” episode about infantilism and ageplay.

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